Skip to content


by on 8 December 2021

A Crime More Serious than Murder


by Joe Orton

Teddington Theatre Club at Hampton Hill Theatre until 11th December

Review by Celia Bard

For those of a certain age the play Loot always brings back strong memories of the violent death of its creator, Joe Orton, brutally murdered by his partner, Kenneth Halliwell in 1967, who himself then went on to commit suicide.  However, such memories need to be put aside when watching a production of Loot although the presence of a coffin on stage throughout the play remains an ironic reminder of Orton’s untimely death.  Knowing of the writer’s liking of black humour and irony, one suspects that the writer himself may well have appreciated the irony of the situation. 

When reading about the life of Joe Orton, it is perhaps not surprising to learn that in his plays, as in life, he liked to shock his audience.  Both he and Kenneth after all had spent some time in prison for defacing library books.  I’ve yet to learn whether the books he chose to deface were selected at random or were they deliberately targeted, or it may well have been the case that they were targeted because of their suspected same-sex attraction.    Back in the 1960s there is only a suggestion in Loot that Hal and Dennis are lovers.   When Loot was written same-sex activity between men was still illegal, so to be outspoken about it was to risk falling foul of the law and all that this entailed.  In TTC’s production, now that the law has been changed, the nature of their relationship is much more explicit, and Dennis and Hal are shown sharing a brief moment of close intimacy. 

Loot is a farce, a black comedy, one in which Orton makes pointed digs at the establishment, whether it’s religion, the police, sex, anything related to societal norms.   The plot of the play centres around two would-be thieves, Dennis and Hal, who have robbed a bank next door to the funeral parlour where Dennis works as a hearse driver.  Their solution as to what to do with the loot is to hide it in the coffin of Hal’s recently deceased mother whom they stash away in a wardrobe.  Before they can remove the body, it is discovered by nurse Fay McMahon, who is now engaged to Hal’s father.  Rather than take the high moral ground, she demands one third of the cash.    The situation becomes more farcical with the arrival of Inspector Truscott, who is oddly disguised as a man from the local Water Board.  The three of them now become entangled in a web of lies and deception in an attempt to keep the body and the money away from the Inspector. 

Set designer, Junis Olmscheid must be congratulated for the design setting that characters in this production inhabit.  It is clear that she, the director and others in the design team have closely collaborated in creating a realistic set that depicts the world of this dysfunctional group of characters, in particular that of the strongly held Catholic beliefs of the dead woman, as epitomised by the numerous Catholic images and icons on display.  The versatile stage setting depicts a lounge and small curtained bedroom space.  The entire set is dominated by two objects, a large period wardrobe and a life-sized coffin resting on a plinth, items essential to both plot and dramatic genre. 

An inspirational ingredient to this production are the Pearl and Dean cinema advertisements shown on a large video monitor against the full width and drop of the theatre’s red proscenium curtains.  The advertisements are those that would have been seen in the 1960s, and thus helps to establish the time period for the play.  You also feel as if you are sitting in a cinema waiting in anticipation for the performance to begin. 

A noticeable aspect of this production of Loot is the control, vision and guiding hand of its director, Nigel Cole, who succeeds in creating a production that is pacy and one in which the play is skilfully interpreted.  He is also successful in creating an ensemble, one in which each of the actors respond sensitively to each other and to what is happening on stage.  Nigel himself comments in notes printed in the programme how ‘important it is to find an appropriate playing style.’  The play is full of funny one-liners, and it would be so easy to play them for laughs.  None of this cast do.  They are all deadly serious and this is why the auditorium was full of appreciative laughter on its opening nght: the audience were not laughing at the characters but at the absurdity of lines they were uttering, full of double standards and innuendo. 

Nurse McMahon played splendidly by Amanda Adams and the Inspector, Jim Truscott, played adeptly by Dave Brickwood, come across as quite likeable even though they are obvious scoundrels.  Both succeed in their roles because of the charismatic villainy they portray.  In contrast Mr McLeavy, acted brilliantly by Peter Hill, is portrayed as an honest man, a father and husband of his dead wife in the coffin.  He is a man predictably slavish to the dictates of a conformist society; his sense and enactment of outrage is extremely believable.  The younger generation, depicted by Hal and Dennis, and wonderfully acted by Matt Nicholas and Matt Dennis, are rebellious, knowledgeable and disinclined to accept any sense of transgression. 

Additional humour is added by the brief appearance of Dave Dadswell as Meadows, the policeman.  I think he can be forgiven for not being able to resist the idiocrasy of bending the knees.  An even briefer appearance of Angela Gibbons as Mrs McLeavy stoked the humour, although I was relieved to realise that it was not she who was trussed up like a mummy throughout most of the entirety of the play.

Loot, as performed by this gifted group of performers, is not a production to be missed.  I left the theatre wishing that its run were longer, so that I could return and enjoy the show all over again.  This play needs to be appreciated for its wit, insightful commentary on prevailing social attitudes in the sixties and the wonderful characters Orton portrays.   The production, at least for me, put Orton’s ghost and his untimely death to rest.  One however cannot help wondering what he may have gone on to achieve had he been allowed to live. 

Celia Bard, December 2021

Photography by Sarah J Carter

  1. Great review, thoroughly enjoyed the show, was fortunate to have front seat view, excellent acting, worthy of any West End theatre. Nice touch bringing the ‘corpse’ to life at the end! Officer meadows shackled in handcuffs was a treat too. Looking forward to the next show. Well done Richard Coles et al. Agree, Jo Orton’s masterful art of pastiche, farce, comedy, will not be forgotten, and yes, if he had ‘been allowed to live’ what a boon to theatre, TV, film, cinema, who knows. Thank goodness we have these shows to remind us of the art of the possible on stage.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: