Loot on National Tour

Note: The following review dates from the play's run at the West End's Vaudeville Theatre in summer 1998.

Staging a satirical farce is a notoriously difficult job - too often the production ends up being neither funny nor satirical. Loot's digs at authority in general and the police in particular - outrageous in the sixties but today the stuff of every alternative comedian - seem rather tired, but director David Grindley manages to resuscitate them with some satisfying slapstick and classic clowning.

Mrs McLeavy lies in her open coffin while scheming Irish nurse Fay (Tracey-Ann Oberman) tries to seduce her grieving husband (Gary Richard). The deceased gets precious little chance to rest in peace, however, as her spivvy son Hal (Gary Whitaker) and his undertaker friend Dennis (Alexis Conran) want to use the casket to hide the proceeds of a bank robbery and the aggressive and unscrupulous Truscott of the Yard (Fred Ridgeway) is hot on their heels. Complex engineering of improbable situations coupled with quick-fire one-liners of Wildean ingenuity make this an entertaining play.

The dated satire is redeemed too, by a cast whose timing of delivery has been perfectly tuned during a successful run at the Chichester Festival.

If Oberman sometimes slips into an accent which owes more to the Caribbean than to Cork, she compensates by tirelessly teetering round the stage in foot-fetishist stilettos to create a performance which is both comic and threatening. Ridgeway's Truscott is a masterpiece of irony and he resists the temptation to camp up the satire, letting Joe Orton's wit speak for itself. His brutality towards McLeavy and Hal provides an effective counterpoint to the comedy of his words, lending an undercurrent of menace to the production and taking it from farce to black comedy in the shake of a truncheon.

Gary Whitaker doesn't quite do justice to the ambiguity of Hal's feelings for Dennis, and there's disappointingly little depth to the character. But the anti-Catholic gags with Fay work well, and he's a good foil for Truscott and Gary Richard's dotty McLeavy.

Loot may have won the Evening Standard award for best play of 1966, but despite the topical resonances with fiascos such as the Stephen Lawrence affair, the satire doesn't really work in 1998. As farce, however - a surreal cross between Z-Cars and a Carry On movie - it's extremely silly and consequently hugely diverting.

Ruth Allen