Loot, Tricycle Theatre, London

Reviewed by Michael Coveney

Wednesday 17 December 2008 01:00

Joe Orton's 1966 Loot, his second play, hasn't been seen in London for 10 years, and it's easy to forget just how bracing and macabre is the onstage struggle to hide the stolen money, as well as a mummified corpse, from the unauthorised investigations of Truscott of the Yard.

This frantic copper, who is really a disguised official from the water board – a council employee with a wandering imagination – is famous for having tracked down the limbless girl killer (the limbless girl was the killer), and is now faced with an ultimate test: how to solve a bank robbery when the money is stashed in a coffin and the corpse is still warm.

In his diaries, Orton describes how he threw out a pair of false teeth on the day his mother was buried, only to realise that they belonged to his father. He then found his mother's gnashers in a drawer, and took them into rehearsals for Loot. In the play, the bereaved son, Hal, is berated by Truscott for his unfeeling attitude towards his parent's bits: "Most people would at least flinch upon seeing their mother's eyes and teeth handed round like nuts at Christmas."

How that eye has popped out remains a mystery, but the poor old mummified mummy is hurled from pillar to post as Hal (Matt Di Angelo, the EastEnders pin-up making a creditable stage debut) and his sidekick Dennis (Javone Prince) scramble around in the suburban front room, and the predatory nurse Fay (an NHS serial killer in the days before we knew they existed) ingratiates herself with the widowed McLeavy. "Then I lived under stress near Penzance for a time," she says, hilariously, for no reason at all.

The director Sean Holmes has sharpened the brilliant edge of Orton's wordplay and stagecraft without allowing his actors to over-egg the pudding. Only Leonard Rossiter could get away with ratcheting up the manic-intensity stakes. David Haig goes for a more sing-song "little man" mustachioed approach, and it works supremely well, still leaving him room for plosive comedy outbursts.

Similarly, Doon Mackichan, of Smack the Pony fame, underplays Fay's blatant sexuality with a sly, Celtic knowingness. The result is a performance that remains breathtaking in its cruelty and audacity without beating you over the head with comic relief. And James Hayes is absolutely perfect as the pasty-faced pious Irish pensioner McCreavy.

To 31 January (020-7328 1000; www.tricycle.co.uk )

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