Banks, bodies and water boards; all will be mercilessly satirised in Drama Soc’s excellent production of Joe Orton’s pitch-black farce. Even before the black velvet curtain lifts on our morbid scene, the hearse-wheels of confusion begin to turn. Drama Soc’s production team brilliantly transformed an ordinary room of Union House into a funeral parlour, complete with mock memorial programmes for the audience. The decrepit Mr McLeavy, played by Charlie Mealings, snored onstage beside a portrait of his dead wife; setting the dark tone, though certainly not the pace, of the proceedings.
What proceedings, dear reader? Proceedings of the decidedly sinister sort. The play opens with scheming Nurse McMahon (Louisa Smith) ‘consoling’ wealthy funeral parlour owner Mr Mcleavy as he prepares for his own wife’s funeral. Meanwhile, McLeary’s inept son Hal (Joe Jones) and employee Dennis (Alex de Ritis) hide the loot from a botched bank-job in the parlour. Wires are crossed and coffins despoiled with the arrival of Inspector Truscott (Alex Horrox-White) and Officer Meadows (Sarah Carton) , raising questions of faith, law and society. And many, many grim laughs from the captivated audience.
Director Samuel Masters’ staging was spot-on. Working with the confined space and transforming it into a funeral parlour engaged the audience throughout. Characters were extremely loud and incredibly close, strutting and scrambling past us down the aisle. In such close quarters, the pressure on the actors was intense, but the entire cast performed magnificently.
Joe Jones as Hal could match Paul McGann in Withnail and I for the quality of his terrified grins, whilst Alex de Ritis as hardman Dennis provided an excellent foil for Jones’ nervous numbskull. Louisa Smith delightfully dripped venom as Nurse McMahon, whilst Charlie Mealings provided endless laughs as the ramshackle old McLeary. Praise must also go to ‘the rozzers’; Despite her short stage time, Sarah Carton as Meadows got the whole audience laughing, and Alex Horrox-White’s Truscott was truly something to behold. Equal parts Michael Palin, Inspector Clouseau and terrifying owl, Truscott’s posturing presence kept the audience gripped throughout.
It’s incredibly hard to fault Drama Soc’s faultless portrayal of Orton’s farce. With top-notch staging, acting and presentation, Loot is a solid gold coffin full of laughs and grimaces in equal measure. Not only that, but there’s an important message; kids, crime doesn’t pay. Well, not always…
Five stars (9 out of 10)