Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Loot

Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , February-07-04
It is great to see that the Welsh College of Music and Drama’s third-year acting B.A. touring production, Joe Orton’s 1964 comedy Loot, has a role for only one woman in a cast of six. Being compelled to enter intense competition for scarce acting opportunities will definitely prepare WCMD’s female graduates for the realities of professional theatre.

Orton’s early play Loot is one of his most incisive. It has the potential to be hysterically funny and eye-opening at once. The moments that work are effective and original enough to forgive Orton’s digressions into Shavian didacticism, and the flimsy, dated female character, a siren of a nurse who has killed seven husbands and now has designs upon an eighth and possibly ninth. Some of Orton’s lines remain diabolically thought-provoking: “it was not blessed by the sanctity of rape,” for example, or “I’m not paid to quarrel with established facts.”

However, this production was weakened by a somewhat confused and superficial directorial vision. Director Jamie Garven shows little understanding of either Orton’s intentions or his context. Putting Orton’s bullying Truscott of the Yard (Stuart McLoughlin) in obvious elevator shoes and making him act like a cartoon character distances him from actual (and, for the prison alumn Orton, actually very intimidating) law enforcement officials. Similarly disarming is Gareth Richards’s policeman’s silly facial expressions and puppy-like friskiness and panting. The nurse, played by Emma MacArthur, is also an alienating cartoon, with a cloying little-girl voice and Betty Boop walk. Alan Tippetts’ circus-like lighting, in bold geometric spills of green and red, increased the sense that the play does not take place in our everyday world—or in Orton’s, which is exactly the opposite of his intended message. Even the sheet-wrapped corpse that’s tossed around the stage fails to shock, as it does not much resemble the silhouette of a human being. Its head is egg-shaped and flat, its sheet stays on no matter how much it is kicked around, and the way the actors handle it suggests that its weight changes throughout the evening.

The late 1970s setting, evoked through music and costume and explained by Garven in the program note, clashes badly with the play’s world as written. This suggests that the director has no sense of Orton’s actual historical context or its impact on his writing. Truscott attempts to scare bank robbers and boyfriends Hal (Reuben-Henry Biggs) and Dennis (Tom Swire) with insinuations about their relationship, and we learn that the landlady of their local is “blackmailing half the neighbourhood.” However, gay sex was decriminalised in 1967—by the same Parliament, incidentally, that abolished the office of the Theatre Censor, who, in 1964, had scourged the original production of Loot and forced Orton to alter the script. The changes in law and culture between then and the advent of punk are far from trivial background details, and arguably made it possible for Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious to sing what they sang in public.

Lastly, Garven states in his program note that “Loot eviscerates piety, pity, and our everyday allusions.” I did not see much evisceration of everyday allusions in Orton’s script. In fact, Orton’s plays are full of conspicuous allusions to the comedies of his favourite playwrights, namely, Shaw, Wilde, Congreve, and Wycherley, along with strong hints of Sherlock Holmes, farce, and the caper genre. I assume that, at WCMD, the work of one or more of these canonical writers is mentioned, if not every day, at least once a term.

Upon leaving the theatre, I got the distinct sense that this production tries to look daring without actually “quarrelling with established” anything. If daring topical satire is what Garven wants to stage, where are the new Ortons, who will write it for our era? WCMD, with its population of intrepid drama students, should be able to come up with some of them.

Reviewed by: Rebecca Nesvet

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