Churchill Theatre, Bromley/West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
Opened ?19 June, 1996

While Phil Willmott prats about with Joe Orton's Funeral Games at the Drill Hall, Alan Strachan's production of Loot serves as a timely reminder that Orton's scripts are more than able to fend for themselves. Only John Alderton as Inspector Truscott either feels a compulsion to or is allowed to get up to any extramural funny business.

Alderton is conscious that the show is being sold on his name, and so perhaps feels justified in working in a number of sight gags getting trapped in a wardrobe, nibbling on a hard-boiled egg and so on. Such tricks do little to point up the eccentricity of the character after all, everyone in Orton is eccentric, to say the least: as well as Truscott of the Yard, Loot boasts a devout Catholic rose-growing widower, a serial-killing nurse, a pair of bisexual bank robbers and a corpse who sees more of her house dead than she had done alive. Truscott himself, as he scours the house for clues to the bank job, maintains almost until the end that he is an employee of the Metropolitan Water Board, whose powers of arrest he refuses to discuss. Orton's drama depends on the extent to which his characters unquestioningly accommodate one another's more exotic traits; if they were not able to discuss matters like the concealment of £102,000 in a funeral casket with such sang-froid, the shocked thrill which is his stock-in-trade would dissipate.

Alderton's little extras come close to downgrading Truscott into a mere pompous buffoon; luckily, though, he stops just this side of disaster. For the most part he looms and lurks with appealing menace, rumbling his lines with a kind of weary dyspepsia, although he wastes several gags by the insertion of unnecessary Michael Foot-like hiatuses in mid-sentence. The rest of the cast do sterling work, especially Rebecca Lacey as the murderous nurse Fay McMahon, who oozes the deadliness of the female as she sashays across the stage. Ifan Meredith is an unshowy Hal, declining to make much of his character's anguished inability to lie when questioned by Truscott, and Mark Dexter gives Dennis a sardonic, nasal twang but again refuses to overplay it. Alan Cowan as the widowed McLeavy supplies the voice of horrified normality as events unravel around him, climaxing when he is led away in handcuffs with, "Oh, what a terrible thing to happen to a man who's been kissed by the Pope!"

Director Strachan takes the play at a brisk but not frenzied pace; the occasional creak, and the odd slice of ham from Alderton, do not derail this good solid revival.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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