Take a couple of dodgy chancers, a suspect plan involving a bank robbery, a corpse and a scheming black widow, throw in a psychotic cop and you have Loot, an outrageous comedy that is as funny now as when it was written by Joe Orton more than 50 years ago.
It is so refreshing to go to the theatre and actually laugh out loud at a brilliantly written show. It’s been years since I’ve seen an entire audience rock with full-throated belly laughs – and not just for the odd sparkling line but for a whole performance.
Park Theatre, in London’s Finsbury Park, opened its doors to a revival of this dark farce last week and Orton’s beautifully crafted work has lost none of its shock value.
Possibly, in the present day, we’re laughing at the absurdity of the plot and the slapstick rather than being astonished at the brazen plot which must have given some theatre-goers the vapours back in 1965.
Back then the unassuming star of the show, Mrs McLeavy, a corpse, was played by an inanimate dummy. Here, director Michael Fentiman has played a blinder by casting actor, Anah Ruddin, who deserves an Olivier for best still-life performance.
Having a living person play a dead woman hits audiences with the full horror of the situation far more powerfully than seeing the mistreatment of a plastic model.
Middle-aged Ruddin endures the most jaw-dropping abuse, including being tossed upside down in a wardrobe and stripped naked, with utmost stoicism and, amazingly, without corpsing.
Loot is the riotous tale of Hal and his mate, Dennis, an undertaker, who rob a bank and then are left with the dilemma of where to stash their ill-gotten gains when the Old Bill start sniffing around.
As chance would have it, Hal’s mum has just died. Where better to conceal the cash than in a coffin?
The only problem is that there isn’t room for both the coffin and the corpse so she gets unceremoniously bundled into a wardrobe.
You can’t fault Hal’s logic and his scheme gets the backing of his late mum’s nurse, the loquacious Fay, who is making a career out of marrying lost causes.
Hal’s bereaved dad, McLeavey, played with dead-pan seriousness by Ian Redford, is her next target and he doesn’t seem too perturbed at the idea.
On their case is Christopher Fulford’s paranoid, corrupt and barking mad Truscott of the Yard who blags his way into their lives determined to crack the case.
False teeth, runaway glass eyes and potty performances, this production has an impeccable cast that delivers laugh after laugh and a director whose bold intentions serves up a breathless, side-splitting, romp.
Sinéad Matthews, as Irish nurse, Fay, gets the lion’s share of the best dialogue and talks non-stop, proffering worldly wisdom while admitting shes working a con.
Sam Frenchum’s impassive, Parka-wearing, Hal and Calvin Demba, as wide-boy Dennis, are perfectly matched as Young Turks on the make.
But it’s Redford’s sublimely funny straight-man routine and Fulford’s crackpot sleuth who help make Loot such a dead cert for success.
Loot runs at the Park Theatre until September 24.
Outrageous & obscenely funny, Joe Orton’s Loot has lost none of its shock value thanks to a top cast & bold direction.