On the surface, the world of Joe Orton’s satirical farce Loot should not feel too dissimilar to our own.
Money and material greed are to be understood as the be-all and end-all of human motivation, as we follow Hal (Harry Jones) and Dennis (Adi George) in their attempts to conceal the proceeds of a robbery in a sealed coffin (never mind that the previous occupant of the coffin was Hal’s mother). Likewise we follow the young nurse Fay (Emma Veares) in her attempts to get her hands on the inheritance of the newly-widowed McLeavy. All of this in the wake of an unexpected visit by the Metropolitan Water Board, a visit which itself seems to have ulterior motives.
Such a bleak understanding of human nature carries over into a not-so-subtle swipe at Establishment corruption, whether in the form of the Roman Catholic Church, or in particular the police force. But to portray these as bumbling and inept, as Loot does, is troubling for the 21st century, where you only need to look to the US now to understand that problems with the police force run deeper than basic incompetence.
The question, then, for the modern director of the play is whether to play it as straightforward farce, or to update the satire for a modern setting. It was unfortunate that this production, despite its best efforts, ultimately failed to do either.
There were some really genuinely funny moments, and some slick deadpan performances from Jones and Rachel Mumford in particular. Yet all too often there were cases of poor timing, bizarre blocking and actors exclaiming lines which really oughtn’t to have been exclaimed. Diction was on the whole sacrificed for volume, meaning that, while audible, the lines were often unintelligible. I appreciate how difficult it was to put on a show in such a short space of time, and problems in the performance were not helped by the harsh acoustics of St John’s Divinity School. With perhaps a little more time, and a little more focus on character development, the production will gain the slickness and pace which it needs.
What was refreshing to see was that the role of Truscott had been gender-swapped, meaning that lines in the original play which might otherwise have drawn gasps from the audience (“My wife is a woman. Intelligence doesn’t enter into it.”) instead provided the biggest laughs of the night (“My husband is a man. Intelligence doesn’t enter into it.”).
These were genuine signs of promise in what was otherwise disappointingly flat.