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by Joe Orton
13-16 October 2004

Curtain Call Awards 2005 - Best Actor in a Comedy
Richard Neal - Truscott

Simon Jackson
Penny Coulson
Ryan Gregg
David Neilsen
Richard Neal
Bob Hucklesby

Barry Baynton

Black comedy gives us our money's worth

JOE Orton's 1966 black comedy deals with police corruption, with the perceived absurdity of religious dogma, with crime and with moral values.

It hints - as much as the censor would allow - at gay issues and treats death as a laughing matter. A coffin, and occasionally a corpse, take pride of place on stage.

Yet, despite all this, it is hugely watchable and Barry Baynton's production does it excellent justice. Even the theatre foyer becomes part of the scene, decked out as a funeral parlour with young lads in black armbands imploring the audience to sign a book of condolence.

And there are some super performances too, especially from Richard Neal as Truscott, commanding the stage from his first entrance. Penny Coulson excels as Irish nurse Fay, as does Ryan Gregg as the deceased's son, Hal.
Simon Jackson is a little less convincing as McLeavy, as his slightly ponderous approach slows the pace somewhat, and David Neilsen's Dennis tends to fall into the same trap.

I particularly liked the "smoking coffin" effect, although a little carelessness with regard to whether or not the lid should have been screwed down caused one or two anomalies. But for a share of the loot I could be bribed to ignore itů Linda Kirkman, Daily Echo

LOOT has always been a difficult play. Its premiere production in 1965 failed and nearly destroyed Orton's reputation. Hitting the balance between outrageous farce and the commonplace was a difficult task then and one which Wimborne Drama found challenging.

To stage a comedy 37 years after it won two awards for best play is ambitious. What was in fashion then is out of date, social values have changed and what shocked audiences in the past is common place today.

The setting of the farce around a corpse, attacks on organised religion and police corruption are no longer causes for gasps of horror. What has not changed though is Orton's comic wit, scathing satire and ghoulish fantasy as he lampoons British propriety, prudery and adherence to authority however insane.

But it takes a rare skill to translate Orton's genius to the stage. Actors in 1965 had difficulty in getting it right and Wimbome Drama were brave to attempt this.

Richard Neal playing Inspector Truscott hit the mark and his exclamation of horror on discovering the corpse's glass eye captured the macabre moment perfectly. Penny Coulson made an impressive debut for Wimborne Drama as homicidal nurse Fay, successfully turning the audience's perception of the character from an angel of mercy to an angel of death. Ryan Gregg's debut at Wimborne as the deceased's homosexual bank-robbing son was also convincing.

However, while enjoyable, the production overall was not crisp to unduly ruffle the audience. Director Barry Baynton was right to stretch the players but maybe Loot, while being one of the 20th century's most potent plays, is not the most relevant for 21st century amateur performers. Liz Turner, Community Magazines

Loot poster Hal (Ryan Gregg) and Dennis (David Neilsen) with "Mrs McLeavy"
McLeavy (Simon Jackson) and Fay (Penny Coulson) - "You've been a widower for three days. Have you considered a second marriage yet?"
Dennis, Hal, McLeavy and Fay - "Treat her gently"
Truscott (Richard Neal) and Fay (Penny Coulson) - "When I shook your hand I found a roughness of one of your wedding rings"
Hal and Truscott - "Where's the money?"
Truscott, Fay and McLeavy - "I wish to prefer charges"
Fay, Truscott, McLeavy and Hal - "I've never come across such people"
Dennis, Truscott, McLeavy and Hal - "Unwarranted interference with the dead"
McLeavy and Truscott "Now sir, be reasonable"



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