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culture: It not a huge shock that Loot is a big hit; Loot, Newcastle Theatre Royal until Saturday.

Byline: Sam Wonfor

IF plays had biographies, Loot's would be one worth reading.

Penned by the shock-enducing hand of Joe Orton, to say its first incarnation went down like an unusually heavy bag of hammers would be underplaying proceedings.

In 1965, it was withdrawn from the stage before it could reach its West End destination. A year (and substantial rewrites later) it was being hailed as a triumph at the Evening Standard Awards.

And since director Sean Holmes has wisely opted to revive the latter of the two, I am able to broadly concur with the 1966 judges.

The plot finds partners in crime (and a little more besides) Hal and Dennis stashing the cash from a bank robbery in the coffin of Hal's recently deceased, and embalmed mother... who consequently becomes a mummy of an entirely different kind.

Predatory, fast-thinking and even faster-talking nurse Fay has her sights on naive widow, McLeavy who she's earmarked as husband number eight.

All the while the stooping, snooping and downright nasty Inspector Truscott is determined to bring someone down, for something.

A shadow-laden farce if ever there was one, 60s audiences left theatres in shock when Loot made its debut proper. And although the march of time may have brought with it a higher level of amoral acceptance, the play's core themes of widespread corruption and greed - together with eyeballs on the loose and a total lack of respect for mummified corpse - still draw more than the odd gasp.

David Haig has grabbed the wonderfully-juicy role of Truscott and is clearly relishing every bite, kick, punch and explosive outburst of the cherry he's been given. Smack The Pony's Doon Mackichan plays Nurse Fay with a reserved - but deadly - Celtic charm while James Hayes is pitch perfect as the bewildered and blindly optimistic Catholic widow.

Former Eastender Matt Di Angelo plays Hal, while Javone Prince plays his sidekick-come-undertaker Dennis.

And although both thoroughly capable - and often a lot more - in their individual roles, I struggled to buy the bisexual undertones intended to simmer between their characters. But that was a small gripe in an otherwise bravo evening. Loot is a bona fide hoot (provided you don't mind a little bit of glass-eye humour).

CAPTION(S):

LOOT David Haig plays brutal Inspector Truscott in a scene from Loot with Doon Mackichan and Javone Prince.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Feb 4, 2009
Words:390
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