'LOOT'

Date 23rd September 2021
Society Blackburn Drama Club
Venue Blackburn Empire Theatre
Type of Production Play
Director Paddy Darnell-Walsh
Musical Director N/A
Choreographer N/A

Report

Author: Paul R. Mason

Joe Orton’s “Loot” is one of the most significant plays of the 20th century. Often described as a dark farce, to my mind  it created its own category i.e. “Loot” and just that. It is unremittingly savage in its attack on English attitudes prevalent in the early 1960s in a country that was ready to be plunged into Beatlemania, psychedelia and a major revision of institutions, politics and attitudes up to that point held to be strictly off limits for critics. “Loot” in its own small way contributed to the freedom we enjoy today to say what we think without fear of censorship. I have had the pleasure of seeing several productions of it down over the last 50 years. Not all of them have done the play’s unstintingly savage satire justice. I remember reviewing one such production in the 1980s and concluding it really ought to be put back in its box and only resurrected when audiences felt like nostalgically revisiting a piece of theatrical whimsy. As an aside it is interesting to note that this is only the second time “Loot” has been performed anywhere in the N.W. NODA region over the last 10 years. 

It is well known that Kenneth Williams artistically destroyed the role of Truscott. Audiences were outraged at the play’s frank ideas, which of course pleased Orton no end. Last night Steven Derbyshire resurrected Truscott allowing him to ascend once more to the heavens. Inspector Truscot is perhaps the most wicked character ever written in a drama. He is amoral, lacking a conscience; truly bad. Furthermore Orton does not ask us to waste time considering his inner motivation nor does he present us with reasons for the character’s personality.  He is simply Truscott. A motif for all that may be wrong with certain sections of society. It is interesting to note that the inspector refers several times to seeking the approval of his superiors. We are left in no doubt they would fully support him. Orton is saying the problems are not exclusively Truscott's. He is merely the representative of a corrupt root and branch system. 

To be successful the play demands to be played at an alarming pace. Director Paddy Darnell-Walsh pushed his accelerator to the floor and demanded we hang on for dear life. Likewise, clear diction is so important. Every word Orton writes is aimed at a target, so to miss even a syllable is unwarranted. The cast were immaculate, demonstrating a deep respect for the play. There is a problem however in the rare moments when a pause is justifiably called for as it comes as a surprise to the audience. The trick is to make it abundantly clear that the slight halt is just that and not because the actors are trying to remember their next line. Sometimes this was not fully achieved. 

Whoever designed the set is to be congratulated. The gloomy dark backdrop with silver etched hanging windows and doors created a sense of unreality beautifully suiting the nonsensical world the characters inhabit.  The music too was wholly appropriate. Funnily enough I had the night before seen a show where  “Money”  was also used as an introduction. (The Flying Lizard’s version however).

Claire St. Pierre had a merry time as Fay. Enjoying herself immensely she beguiled us from the first moment she appeared. Almost as wicked as Truscott, Claire showed how someone with supreme confidence and a frighteningly clear sense of self interest could flourish in this mad world. I have said it before so I will say it again. I always enjoy Andrew Smith’s creations.  His put upon, world weary MacLeavy was another masterpiece. Buffeted by the weird goings on around him and failing miserably to assert any kind of influence on the proceedings he reminded us that in Orton’s world good guys not only come last they may as well save their breath in complaining and meekly accept their inevitable sad fate. It is a supreme moment of irony that MacLeavy’s injuries are not caused by the blast but by a dog. This is Orton having a laugh at our expense of course while also vividly reminding us of the perils of assumption.  The two partners in crime Hal and Dennis were reliably played by Will Gelding and Ryan Coe. I would perhaps have liked to have seen a clearer definition of their separate personalities, but with a whirlwind of a character in Steven Derbyshire’s Truscott sharing their stage this is admittedly difficult to achieve. 

This was a fine production that drew me in from start to finish. I particularly appreciated the largely down stage playing. The Empire offers so many opportunities in this respect to engage with its audience. Dare I conclude by saying audiences in 2021 are more knowing and tolerant than those of 1965, or 1986 for that matter? The frequent gasps and mutterings made when some of the more controversial of Orton’s views were aired reflect the idea the play is after all not a nostalgia fest but continues to aim its incisive blasts toward the dangers of putting too much faith in erstwhile untouchable respectable institutions. That to evince such strong reactions from the hugely appreciative audience says much for the quality of the production and the wisdom of the director.

By the way, Suzanne, you deserve a medal!

PRM