A recent trip to see LOOT was a rare treat. Our local playhouse staged Joe Orton’s brilliant absurdity as their ‘alternative Christmas show’ describing it as ‘wielding a satirical sledgehammer to conventional English morality.’
The fabulous Teddington Theatre Club players, directed by Nigel Cole put together a grand performance. The beauty of front row seats, at a fraction of the cost of the West End, meant being up close and personal with the actors on stage, seeing the magical interplay of Orton’s characters.
On curtain opening, we found a stage cluttered with kitsch – religious iconography, such as images of the Blessed Mother and the Sacred Heart. The holy water container, and the ubiquitous plastic Madonna were present, of course. Next to these, the curtained-off bed, the suspicious-looking closet and a huge coffin that dominates the stage. The voice of Fay McMahon, the nurse, in farcical accent chimes well with the OTT stage setting. The cringing McLeavy – in a stagier brogue – sets off an infectious atmosphere of fun and mischief.
LOOT is no mere pastiche. This savage comedy is a clever and satisfying dismembering of religious and institutional hypocrisy. The play was first performed during the period when homosexuality was illegal in Britain, as well as a being an egregious sin. Orton eviscerates the pompous and the puritanical. He examines the social-cultural morals of the era and finds them wanting.
I sensed Orton’s affection for his motley crew. Inspector Truscott, is an inverted Sherlock Holmes. Silly officer Meadows, is a betrayal of the ever-stoic ‘Dixon of Dock Green’. The two would-be bank robbers are no exemplars of the Kray twins. They have a problem living up to their ‘wide-boy’ image – one of them can’t even lie! Nurse McMahon is a serial killer. The holier-than-thou McLeavey is drowning in iniquity. These are all wonderfully subversive 1960s stereotypes.
Familiar tropes, but highlighting the absurdity of narrow-minded conventions, celebrating the quirky and the absurd. The ever-present coffin and the corpse of McLeavys late wife – trussed up and manhandled like a sack of potatoes – lent a delicious sense of sacrilege to the proceedings on stage.
Orton was a master satirist in the tradition of Oscar Wilde, if on the opposite end of the class spectrum. The London Observer once referred to him, as “The Oscar Wilde of the welfare state gentility.”
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Unfortunately, Orton was the victim of a murder-suicide at age 34. He died in his flat in 1967, a scene he might well have written into one of his dark satires.
Luckily, theatre-goers can still see and appreciate his superb plays, but there might have been more to enjoy if his life wasn’t ended so brutally.
Well done, TCC and Hampton Hill Playhouse for bringing Joe Orton’s work back to life, so vividly.
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