Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Loot at the Tricycle

This is the first time I’ve been to the Tricycle this year where I haven’t got caught in the rain en route, the first trip to Kilburn this year therefore where I haven’t had to shake myself dry in the lobby like a damp spaniel before picking up my tickets. I mention this only because a pre-show soaking, or in this case the lack of one, can't help but have some bearing on my mood and therefore to my response to what I see - Topless Mum was still pretty rough though, rain or no rain.

The scramble for seats can, of course, have the same effect. Fortunately mine, in this instance, was reserved, so I can hardly complain, but, as reported on various other blogs, there seemed to be a general sense of confusion, of people wandering around only to find that seats they thought were free weren’t and so forth.

I am a bit wary of the works of Joe Orton after I sat pretty much unmoved through Hampstead’s revival of What the Butler Saw while people around me appeared on the verge of doing themselves a damage through laughing so much. I actually preferred this production, though that’s not much of a recommendation, as I still found it a somewhat clinical and nasty-hearted exercise. That’s not to say I didn’t laugh, I did, but there’s something about the desire to push buttons, to experiment with levels of offence that makes me tired and bored; I understand the social context and where this desire came from, that kind of humour just leaves me cold.

Loot is Orton’s second play. It was written in 1964 but it was the revised and tightened version of 1966 that achieved success. The play, which is as black as a charred coffin, begins with an end. The end of Mrs McLeavy. Her grieving husband, played by James Haynes, is being pressurised into marrying again by his wife’s leggy, predatory nurse, a woman who has seen of seven husbands and is on the look out for number eight.

Meanwhile the McLeavys’ young son and his undertaker friend have been involved in a bank heist and need somewhere to stash the cash. The solution? Tip mother into a cupboard and hide the loot in the coffin.

Death, religion, marriage, all are poked at. But though entertaining in a patchy fashion, the Sean Holmes’ production works best as a barometer of how humour and notions of what constitutes bad taste have, and haven’t, evolved over the last four decades. Jokes about the manhandling of corpses, errant eyeballs and exploding viscera – all the gruesome stuff - elicited plenty of guffaws, but the jokes about rape and child prostitution were met only with uncomfortable titters. Oddly it was a line about the mutually exclusive nature of women and intelligence that drew the only hiss of disapproval of the evening, a very mild line by the standards of the play. But this was kind of faux-outrage, not real; the truly outrageous stuff drew a much more muted response.

There were some strong performances. I liked David Haig’s turn as Truscott of the Yard, pacing the room with his hands behind his back and his head held low, is very effective. He appears to be relishing each line; it’s a hammy performance but appropriate to the tone of the piece. Doon Mackichan’s lusty, lethal nurse was equally entertaining.

While some elements inevitably felt dated, the play’s contempt for authority, and especially the police, still feels very relevant. The character of Truscott is prone to violence and vanity; he’s easily corruptible and borderline bonkers. Some of the remarks, which in essence are about how the erosion of civil liberties, still have a fresh edge to them.

The production begins with a scratchy rendition of the national anthem and, on the night I was in, a – somewhat elderly – gent rose from his seat and stood for the duration of this. His position, right in the middle at the front of stalls, made me think that he, this lone standing chap, was part of the show; a nice, wry comment on an ever changing world.