Tag Archives: Black Comedy

Review of Joe Orton’s “Loot” at the Coliseum Aberdare by Roger Barrington

 

(2 / 5)

 

I’ve never really been attracted to Joe Orton’s work. I recall seeing revivals of  Entertaining Mr. Sloane and What the Butler Saw staged in London during the 1990’s and watching the filmed version of Loot on it’s original run in 1970 and a common denominator in all these black comedies for me was that they were just not very funny, annoyingly over-verbose and outdated.

So with a degree of trepidation, I ventured to my local Coliseum Theatre in Aberdare, to see Black Rat and Blackwood Miners Institute Co-production of “Loot” which is touring venues in Wales until the 10th November.

The plot revolves around two young criminals, Hal (Rick Yale) and Dennis (Gareth Tempest) robbing a bank located next door to the funeral parlour where the latter is employed. Needing to hide the proceeds of their crime quickly, they decide on hiding it in a cupboard in Hal’s house initially, and then inside the coffin of his recently deceased mother lying in state in the same room prior to the funeral. Throw into the mix a psychopathic nurse Fay, (Sarah Jayne Hopkins), with an eye for grabbing the inheritance through marrying the newly widowed McLeavy, (John Cording) and a borderline loony police detective Truscott, (Samuel Davies), and you have the ingredients of ensuing mayhem.

 

 

The premise is promising, but is let down by its unnaturalistic dialogue and relentless attempts to be witty that leave you shell-shocked and disinterested after a very short time.

Another problem is that the main character Truscott, an obvious caricature of Sherlock Holmes, meerschaum pipe to boot, is patently unfunny.  Orton created the part with Kenneth Williams in mind, and I can envisage that actor improving the part, However,  for other actors without the unique talent of  Williams’s  affected style of delivery, it is a thankless task.

Fay is an Irish nurse and the most memorable character in the play. Devoted totally to the accumulation of wealth, she has managed Mrs. McLeavy, (an obviously silent role played by Julie Barclay) to change her Will in her favour. Previously married seven times, all her deceased husbands have died violently and now she has her claws into McLeavy.

McLeavy himself, the most moralistic character is a devout Roman Catholic who at first chooses not to believe that his son Hal is a bank robber.  He is torn between paternal responsibility and his religious conviction.

Hal, a product of his parents’ upbringing is incapable of lying, and this does lead to some slightly amusing moments. His friend and co-bank robber Dennis is a ladies man with an eye for snatching Fay, an attractive target as she had nefariously accumulated a degree of wealth.

Orton is targeting the accountability of the police force, exemplified through the sneaky and violent behaviour of Truscott. Orton, as a gay man at this time, (1960’s), had a history of bad experiences at the hands of the police and The Law and had an axe to grind. Famously, he was imprisoned for criminal damage to library books. His severe prison sentence probably down to his sexual orientation. He also has a go at the Roman Catholic Church  and middle-class society.

Orton reminds me of an earlier generation John Lydon, (Johnny Rotten of The ex Pistols) in his relentless quest to shock. He was always running into difficulties with the censors, and Loot was a case in point. However, what passed as shocking and controversial back in 1965 when the play was first performed, is passe sixty years on. I can remember the 60’s well enough and references to events and the way of thinking at that time does bear resonance, but I wonder how a group of schoolchildren that were present in the audience would find any degree of connection.

As for the production team, they make a pretty good attempt at making this redundant play accessible. All the actors have a decent body of work behind them and are collectively strong. The pick being Sarah Jayne Hopkins’s Fay – a lively portrayal with great vocal variation.

Director Richard Tunley creates a brilliant opening to introduce the characters, relying on a protective hospital screen doubling up as a cinematic screen to show an extract taken from a 60’s B-movie bank heist. It then is used for the concealing and exposure of the characters in an inventive way. This certainly caught the audience attention and I looked forward to more examples of this to come. Alas, that was not to be, and the remainder of the play is directed in a traditional way and is the worse for it.

Sean Crowley’s design is also traditional and somewhat perfunctory – religious icons, cupboard, bed, radio, room lamp and table and chairs.

This production makes a valiant attempt to resurrect a moribund play, but overall, you feel it should be resigned to accompany Mrs McLeavy in the centrestage coffin and buried in the cemetery of extinct drama. I can’t help wondering, whether Joe Orton’s work would still be exalted by some if he hadn’t died so young and brutally.

 

Roger Barrington

 

 

 

Audio Review The Motherf***ker with the Hat at the Sherman Theatre by Roger Barrington

(3 / 5)

NB. This review contains strong language and adult themes within the context of the subject matter of this play.

Transcript

The immediate problem I face with this review is how to name it.

Its correct title is The Motherfucker with the Hat, but in polite circles it is either called, “The MotherFxxxxr with the Hat or The Mother with the Hat. Being fairly polite myself, I shall refer to it as the MotherF with the Hat.

This play markes the first collaboration  between Glasgow’s Tron Theatre and Cardiff’s Sherman Theatre. Having seen Tron Theatre productions previously in Scotland and in London, I was aware that I was in for a challenging hard-hitting show, that is not so much “In Yer Face” theatre as slapping you around the face drama.

The MotherF with the Hat is a Tony Award nominated play by esteemed New Yorker Stephen Adly Guirgis. This playwright is often mentioned in the company of such American icons as David Mamet and Tracy Letts, so you know he is right up there with the American cream. That’s cream not Dream as there is little to associate the content of this play ith that national American ethos.

Written in 2011, the play premiered at Broadway’s Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on April 11th of that year to mixed reviews. Much of the adverse criticism was aimed at the portrayal of Ralph D by Chris Rock as many critics were a little underwhelmed with his performance.

The play was a bit of a financial flop, largely due to the problem I highlighted at the start of this review. In the more Puritanical American world, it as difficult to market because you couldn’t even call the play by its name. A dig at American Puritanism is referenced in the script when a potential bout of bed-hopping leads to an exclamation from Jackie, putting a halt to Victoria, his sponsor’s wife’s advances, “I mean what are we – Europeans or some shit?” Made me feel quite proud (to be European).

MotherF with the Hat made its British premier at the Lyttleton Theatre on 10th June 2015, to almost universal praise.  This Tron/Sherman production marks its Scottish and Welsh debut.

The play is a five-hander and begins with Veronica tidying up her bed in preparation for a visit from boyfriend Jackie, who has just been released from prison and who is trying to start living a decent life, beginning with finding a job. Veronica is a cocaine-sniffing attractive girl nicely played by Welsh actress Alexandria Riley, who recently appeared in the acclaimed Sherman production of “The Cherry Orchard”. Her single room located in a residential hotel in Times Square is a bit of a mess. Empty bottles and full ashtrays and clothes scattered untidily on the floor.

When Jackie enters and they start conversing, it is obvious by the tone of the conversation  that they are going to get down to a bit of rumpy-pumpy.  Whilst Veronica prepares herself by taking a shower, (offstage), Jackie strips down to his briefs, ready for action and gets into bed. He then espies a man’s hat lying on the coffee table. Suspicions arise and Jackie wants to know who the motherfucker with the hat is. He sniffs the bed imitating an anteater hoovering up its prey trying to identify whether any sexual activity had recently occurred which he wouldn’t have been a part of.

Jackie played by Francois Pandolfo is probably the central character in the play  and he does well playing the paranoid Puerto Rican New Yorker.

Other characters are Jermaine Dominique as Ralph D., Jackie’s sponsor. I found his Machiavellian excuses for behaving badly very funny. His wife, Victoria, played by American actress Renee Williams has just had enough of her husband’s antics.  The final character Cousin Julio, (Kyle Lima), is a macho individual, being a kind of mix of a masseur and notary public. He also has connections to the Mob.

The acting is fine throughout with just a couple of lapses with the New York accent. For me however, the star quality of this production is Kenny Miller’s set design.

On three split levels, each representing a character’s abode, at the bottom you find Veronica’s hotel room in Times Square – probably a run-down establishment. The middle level represents Ralph D’s and Victoria’s Hell’s Kitchen place. An area of NYC largely associated ith actors and a has a prominent gay quarter. At the top, you have Cousin Julio’s minimalist Feng Shui abode in gentrified Washington Heights. This arrangement is no accident as it depicts an ascending order of prosperity.

The play depicts betrayal, guilt, infidelity and addiction but has an abundance of dark humour within it.

With so much going for it, why did I find myself constantly checking my watch for the final twenty minutes, with the production only lasting ninety minutes? Maybe it is because I found it rather one-paced – there isn’t much variety in it. The naturalistic dialogue is sparkling and has a cadence to it that almost makes it sound lyrical at times, but it overwhelmed me in its intensity.

Having taught for many years in China, I became aware that Chinese audiences always judge the merit of a movie based upon its resolution, and being Chinese, it should have a moralistic quality to it. I found the play rather slight, and I liken the spectacle to travelling up to London for a day’s sightseeing and spending all your time travelling around the circle line.

Can I recommend this play? Well, I guess it comes down to home being where you hang your hat, (sorry about that). If you are at home watching an amusing, profanity driven play which offers little hope but doesn’t make you think too hard, then you should love this play.

Due to profanity throughout, adult themes and brief male nudity, I suggest that this play is meant for adults only.

The show runs at the Sherman Cardiff, having already completed its Glasgow run, until 31st March 2018.

 

Francois Pandolfo as Jackie and Jermaine Dominique as Ralph D

 

 

Francois Pandolfo as Jackie and Renee illiams as Victoria

 

 

 

Tickets are available from Sherman Theatre

 

Roger Barrington