Loot is one of the most famous plays from the late gay playwright Joe Orton and this year it’s 50 years old. Dave Cross spoke to the director Michael Fentiman and the two leads, Calvin Demba and Sam Frenchum about this highly entertaining play which opens next week at the Park Theatre.
Michael Fentiman, Director
Hi Michael, for our younger readers can you briefly describe who Joe Orton was?
Joe was a young gay playwright working in the 1960s. At the time it was still illegal for Joe to be open about his homosexuality, so he often found ways of expressing ideas about gay relationships through his plays – but cleverly enough to not make it too obvious to the law. Unfortunately Joe died, at the height of his success, killed by his lover Kenneth Halliwell on the 9th of August 1967, this week 50 years ago.
And how would you describe Loot?
A bleak comedy about a bank robbery, a dead body and group of people on the hustle.
There’s some very dubious goings on in the play, but is it true some stuff was left out in the original 1967 version?
Yes. At the time all art had to be approved by the Lord Chamberlain. He was very unsure about the treatment of dead bodies, the accusations made about the police, the disrespect to the church and the inferred sexual preferences of some of the characters. Many things were cut from the original London run. In our production we have been allowed to add back into the play a few of the things Joe was unable to see in the play in his lifetime.
Can you talk us through the characters?
Mcleavey is an old man whose wife has just died. Fay is the nurse that looked after Mcleavey’s wife before she died. She is also a serial killer. Truscott is a power-crazed and brutal policeman, a corrupt lunatic who descends upon the house on the day of the funeral on the hunt for two bank robbers. Hal is the son of the house who has just robbed a bank. He can’t lie, which is a problem for a bank robber. He is in a sexual relationship with his best mate Dennis. Dennis is the assistant to an undertaker. He is known for sex with multiple women causing pregnancies, has been with both Hal and Nurse Fay – and is open to any other sexual opportunities.
The two boys in the show are holding hands in the poster… is this a new twist?
They are tough working class boys, but are intimate with each other, both as friends and occasionally lovers. I think that’s inherently in the play – so it made sense to try and capture that with the image.
Calvin Demba and Sam Frenchum
Hi guys, can you each describe your characters?
Calvin: Dennis is a duck and diving Dirty Den type. He gets in too deep and he likes a bit of both.
Sam: The only thing Hal cares about is money and who he is knocking off next – preferably his best mate Dennis.
What is the relationship between them?
Sam: Two best mates who have been knocking about together since they were born. They are dreaming of a better life.
Calvin: They think they are the Kray twins but in truth they are a couple of Rodney Trotters.
Sam: There is a problem in the fact that Dennis likes girls too and dreams of one day getting married – and maybe Hal wants more than that.
Loot is most definitely a play of dubious morals, is that fun to play?
Calvin: The writing is so fun to play. It’s like a different language. It’s great getting the chance to play someone that comes out with the perfect witty answer to every situation.
Sam: I love the fact that the play doesn’t worry about these characters being likeable. These people do what they like and don’t seek approval and here is something really liberating about that.
Calvin: Come see for yourselves and find out.