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 Connecting professional and amateur theatre in Newbury, West Berkshire and beyond

Watermill Theatre - Loot

28th September to 21st October 2017

Review from Newbury Theatre.

Loot was first performed in 1965 after a long correspondence with the Lord Chamberlain’s office who at that time had to give approval for all plays to be performed and could mandate changes and cuts. This resulted in a watered down version of Joe Orton’s original script, but it’s the uncut version that we can now see at the Watermill.

Director Michael Fentiman says that Orton “doesn’t present a farce in its traditional sense”; to me it was definitely a farce but with a lot more to it in the pointed and witty script than a Ray Cooney farce has (interesting that the programme thanks Ray Cooney among many others).

Mr McLeavy’s wife has recently died and her coffin is laid in the front room of their house. Fay, a nurse and serial husband killer, has been looking after her. Their son Hal and his lover Dennis have been involved in a bank robbery and the loot is stashed in a locked cupboard behind the coffin. The arrival of Inspector Truscott, posing as a Water Board employee, causes much swapping around of the body and the money…

The themes touch on the Catholic Church, police corruption, homosexuality, the monarchy and respect for the dead. The original London production was highly praised but many people were shocked and upset by it. Times have changed, and the uncensored version hardly shocks, allowing the audience to enjoy the black humour and manic action.

Christopher Fulford as Truscott is a psychotic maniac. This full-on performance is breathtaking to watch, especially in his interactions with McLeavy (Ian Redford). Sinéad Matthews as Fay is a tough, single-minded gold digger. Sam Frenchum and Calvin Demba as Dennis are suitably bemused and scared as things spiral out of control. The cast rattle through the script at machine-gun speed (and at a volume more suited to a bigger auditorium).

Not speaking but doing some amazing contortions as Mrs McLeavy, as well as being stripped naked, Anah Ruddin was the most supple dead body I’ve ever seen on a stage. In the original version, the Lord Chamberlain’s office were most concerned about the body, requiring that it be a dummy, fully clothed at all times in view of the audience and dressed in a WVS uniform!

This play is clever, funny and witty, and still relevant despite liberalisation over the past 50 years. I laughed a lot – so will you.


Review from the British Theatre Guide.

It’s over fifty years since Joe Orton’s daring black comedy Loot was first performed in London and shocked some of the audiences, many leaving before the end, with its irreverent portrayal of the Catholic Church, the treatment of the dead, the corrupt police and homosexuality.

It is also the anniversary of his death, when he was bludgeoned to death by his lover, Kenneth Halliwell. The two had a tempestuous life spending some time in gaol for defacing library books and Halliwell becoming more jealous of Orton’s growing success. He won The Evening Standard’s Best Play Award in 1965.

In the Watermill Theatre’s impressive production, strikingly directed by Michael Fentiman, this cynical, rollicking farce still manages to shock as well as provide much hilarity.

It is set in Mr McLeavy’s house on an imposing, funereal, black set designed by Gabriella Slade with stained glass windows and gold crosses and an ominous cupboard.

Centre-stage is a coffin with the body of late Mrs McLeavy (Anah Ruddin) awaiting her interment. The distraught, grieving husband, splendidly played by Ian Redford, is being comforted by Mrs McLeavy’s nurse McMahon.

Sinéad Matthews gives a wonderful performance as the feisty nurse Fay, who has been married seven times with all of her husbands dying under suspicious circumstances.

She has already helped herself to the late Mrs McLeavy’s slippers, jewels and clothes and has a plan to make Mr McLeavy her next husband. She tells him, “you’ve been a widower for three days have you thought about a second marriage?”

The plot becomes more complicated when McLeavy’s wayward son Hal (Sam Frencham) and his boyfriend Dennis (Calvin Demba) who works in the next door funeral parlour and is responsible for the remains of Mrs McLeavy need to find a hiding place for the money they have stolen in a bank robbery, but where to put it?

It starts off in the cupboard and is then hidden in the coffin, but that means moving the body in a tremendous piece of slapstick comedy and all credit to Ruddin for being so roughly manhandled.

With the arrival of police detective Truscott disguised as a Metropolitan Water Board official, the whole situation becomes totally bizarre.

Christopher Fulford is outstanding as the sadistic inspector determined to solve the mystery, especially when he finds a glass eye and viciously interrogates Hal. He is unscrupulous and as he says, “policemen, like red squirrels, need to be protected.” He is ably assisted by Raphael Bar as Mathews.

He becomes more embroiled in the madcap situation and eventually agrees to take a cut of the loot revealing, “we have a saying under the blue lamp: ‘waste time on the truth and you’ll be pounding the beat until the day you retire’.”

Orton’s play is as relevant today as when it was first written and some of the original lines censored by the Lord Chamberlain have been reinstated including references to a Pakistani brothel and corrupt police that ring true.

It’s all tremendous fun and this is a production not to be missed.


Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Orton uncut

Joe Orton's play Loot, originally censored for immorality more than 50 years ago, is staged in The Watermill's anniversary year. A darkly comic masterpiece, this classic farce shocked and delighted audiences in equal measure when the play premiered, winning the Evening Standard Best Play award.

Loot, at The Watermill, Bagnor, until Saturday, October 21

Joe Orton's play Loot, originally censored for immorality more than 50 years ago, is staged in The Watermill's anniversary year. A darkly comic masterpiece, this classic farce shocked and delighted audiences in equal measure when the play premiered, winning the Evening Standard Best Play award.

Playing a corpse usually means no lines to learn and needs little aptitude except to be able to lie still.

Not so for Anah Ruddin, playing deceased Mrs McLeavy in Joe Orton's dark comedy, for presumably the audition included having the ability to stand on her head and put up with being lugged around the stage as well as having her clothes stripped off.

Her 'home' is a coffin resting on a bed. Funeral flowers spell out 'Mum'. That is all, apart from a chair into which various characters sink when overcome.

In writing Loot, Orton was out to shock, to have a mocking, contemptuous laugh at our attitude to what we regard as sacred cows, death, religion – and the implacable honour of the detective in charge.

This production, directed by Michael Feniiman, restores all the cuts which the Lord Chancellor insisted were made 50 years ago. Although people today may not be as scandalised as were their counterparts in the 60s, some may find it difficult to take. It is the kind of shocking which occasionally makes you laugh with an intake of breath.

The reason for ex-Mrs McLeavy's travels about the stage are that a load of cash, stolen by her son Hal (Sam Frenchum) and his undertaker chum Dennis (Calvin Demba), has to be stored somewhere and where better than a coffin about to be interred? Their relationship is open to question.

We meet 'grieving' widower Mr McLeavy (Ian Redford) and his wife's nurse Fay (Sinead Matthews), an Irish Catholic Barbara Windsor lookalike who has had seven husbands in as many years, all dying in suspicious circumstances. Like everyone in this excellent cast, she has a superb way with the many hilarious one-liners – she remarks when Mrs McLeavy and the 10 commandments are mentioned that "she was a great believer in some of them".

The coffin and widower set off, but an accident occurs and they return, complete with McLeavy covered in blood, having been bitten by an Afghan hound.

Masquerading as a Water Board official, Truscott (Christopher Fulford) of the force attempts with ever-increasing sound volume to sort out who, if anyone, is guilt-free. He is finally aided by the discovery of a false eye which has abandoned its owner, Mrs Mcleavy, during one of the 'bundling in the cupboard' sessions.

Bizarre? Certainly. Shocking? Some may find it so. Entertaining and funny? Absolutely.