Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Loot

Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama , Sherman Theatre, Cardiff , February-06-04
Anarchy seems to be the theme of Jamie Garven’s production of Joe Orton’s classic black farce, Loot. Anarchy, punk style.

In fact the play, now seen as a modern classic, was written ten years before the Sex Pistols tried to be as offensive to the bourgeoisie as the scandalous Orton had been before his lover beat his brains out in 1967 – just as the Beatles were singing about the power of love.

Johnnie Rotten’s snarling Anarchy starts the show and Pretty Vacant ends it, with bursts of Pistols at odd intervals in this crazy comedy, and our two bisexual antihero crooks are dressed in classic Seventies punk gear – and even the corrupt copper, Detective Truscott, has a secret coloured Mohican under his standard detective’s trilby.

Which is not how Loot tends to be. Admittedly when it first opened Kenneth Williams played Truscott and the whole thing turned out more camp that a bottle of coffee, but Orton himself insisted that it should be played straight – “Loot is a serious play,” the playwright insisted.

And generally he’s been followed. The best way to bring out the outrageously offensive comedy as corpses get bundled in and out coffins, murdering nurses simper and amoral youths try to hide their ill-gotten gains, is to make it realistic.

That’s despite the fact it obviously isn’t. And as the years go on the extremes of the black humour, the satirisation of the police and religion, seem less and less offensive. Police brutality is taken for granted, religion’s a joke, we’re used to thieves being heroes and bisexuality is the norm.

So how do you do Loot in these postmodernist times. Do just what Orton hated, says Jamie Garven. Overplay it. With irony, of course.

So all the actors, from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, have clearly been told to exaggerate and create caricatures rather than characters. One careers around like Lurch, another adopts a high-pitched voice with an odd accent, Truscott puffs on a pipe and swirls his coat.

It’s a far cry from the subversive farce with its almost Wildean one-liners.

Does it work ? Not on the first night, where a lot of Orton’s excruciating humour was lost and little gained in its place. It was manic and fun at times but the concept wasn’t really carried through with conviction. Give it time and it could be quite something.

And Stuart McLoughlin, as the stupid, bullying detective, really shouldn’t go wrong with that face once he’s out in the wide world of professional theatre.

Reviewed by: David Adams

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