Black Rat Productions – Loot
Richard Burton Theatre, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
Saturday 3rd November 2018
Controversy at the theatre is one of my fascinations. What does it take to offend? Why do we get offended? Whilst The Rite of Spring and The Magic Flute are famous musical examples of riots at the theatre, what homegrown work ruffled feathers and why?
Loot is a very good example of scandal within British theatre. With pieces such as Oh, Calcutta! and The Romans in Britain having yet to make their impact with nudity and simulated rape on stage, Loot might still push some buttons even today. Though its playwright, Joe Orton died in tragic circumstances at a very young age (murdered by his gay partner), he left a lasting legacy of a handful of plays and other writing, though he will be always remembered for this shocking and frequently hilarious play.
Desecration of a corpse is never easy to portray on stage and many a mouth would have dropped upon seeing Loot back in 1965. Here’s why: It is the wake of Mary McLeavy and her son Hal has just robbed a bank, with his undertaker lover Dennis (no doubt giving a discount for the service). They urgently need to hide the money and an inspired idea is to move his mum’s body, stuffing her into the wardrobe and hiding the money in her casket. Back in the day, this could have easily pushed audiences over the edge. The way we formally treat the dead is heavily challenged in this play, though there is plenty of gallows humour, making for moments of general hilarity.
Black Rat’s poster for Loot looks somewhat tacky, though it is in keeping with the sordid nature of the themes within the show. Some unnecessary usage of the Psycho soundtrack adds little in its effectiveness here, though music from the era is more fitting, played before the show and during the opening robbery montage. The set is a gaudy, mid 60’s room brought brilliantly to life by Sean Crowley. Even that famous painting of a Chinese woman (who for some reason is a blue/green hue here) that was hung in every house then is here, surrounded by icons and images of Christ and Mary.
Directed by Richard Tunley, the slapstick moments are used to great effect here, in a tight production that finally gives Wales a look at Loot with fresh eyes. The ensemble cast are a striking force of energy, malice and quick wit. They never wane in their bravado! John Cording is Mr McLeavy, the mourning widower who is frequently manipulated throughout the entire show (we feel for him at the end). Essentially, the straight man of this comedy (and naive in some moments) he is filled with passion and grief. Sarah Jayne Hopkins is Fay, the rowdy Irish nurse who tended to his dying wife. Full of vigour and an emerging dark side, killing previous patients in demented crimes of passion, she makes the parts all her own. Hopkins is highly convincing in the role, on the backs of both robbers and soon finding her way into a share of the money and even more bizarrely planning to elope with Mr McLeavy. This nurse will do anything for money, it seems.
Samuel Davies is Truscott (and also creator of the highly convincing stage combat for the show), a policeman disguised as a member of the local water board. This role is a clear cookie cutter bobby parody, though Davies does some super hamming up in the role, to great comedic effect. It’s made very clear he is having fun in the part, with some great one-liners and swaggering physical force. Dennis is here taken on by Gareth Tempest, in hysterical, energy filled guise which usually involves heightened sexual tension with Hal. With a solid, comical voice and looming stage presence, Tempest makes a jolting role for the rampaging character, who rarely stops bouncing off the walls. In Hal, Rick Yale, is our cheeky boy next door, scrummy in his devilish demeanour. He has usually got some great comebacks and frequently makes us laugh with absurd observations and a cutting, Cockney flippancy. This is one bad boy who should either be in jail or punished in other ways.
In arguably her most incredible performance yet, Julie Barclay is an outstanding corpse. Her durability and battle-hardened physicality is proven by being flung all over the set, struck, squashed and flopped everywhere. Her cheeky smile at the curtain as the others took her partly out of the casket and made her wave, was one of many highlights of the night.
Loot is still highly relevant in our time of corrupt police forces, murderous nurses, bank robberies and sordid affairs.
Loot continues on tour around Wales till 10th November 2018
Photo Credit: Loot Dropbox Photographs