British farce plays on the Toronto stage
Bygone Theatre fires off their 2018 season with Joe Orton’s Loot at Alumnae Theatre. I found this to be a production which shines on the technical aspects: the play is set in 1960s England and the set, props and costumes are all faithful representations of that era. The cast adopt English accents, which they maintain respectably well. Unfortunately, I felt that this attention to detail seems to have come at the expense of the humor and character depth offered by the play.
On the morning of his mother’s funeral, Harold (Kevin Forster) and his mate Dennis (Kenton Blythe), who works at the undertaker’s shop, have managed to rob the bank next door (in the nude so as not to leave any evidence)! However, the police have already been round to Dennis’ asking questions, and the two young criminals, desperate to conceal their ill gotten gains, alight on the perfect way to do so. They will smuggle the money out of the house in the dead woman’s coffin. As for the unfortunate corpse… well, she can just go in the cupboard!
Loot is a dark farce which first debuted in 1965–needless to say, a time of massive social upheaval–and it callously satirizes attitudes towards death, authority, religion and societal expectations. Yet, its themes of police brutality, the expectations and disappointments resulting from the generational gap, and the role (or lack thereof) of religion in our lives are very much pertinent today.
My date for the evening, Moe, really liked the set, designed by Emily Dix. It was very versatile, allowing small items of furniture to be moved around in different ways that resolve thorny staging problems. For instance, a screen is moved in front of the bed, allowing Fay to undress the corpse of Harold’s mother (“a Freudian nightmare!” as he terms it). There were also various entry and exit points, a handy thing to have when blocking a farce where characters are constantly coming and going from the scene.
Since Orton was writing a satire, his characters are very recognizable: the ne’er do well son Harold, the holier than thou Catholic nurse Fay (Sarah Thorpe), and the bumbling Mr. McLeavy (Patrick Young). Yet, there is more to them than that: the nurse turns out to have killed off seven husbands, and Mr. McLeavy it turns out to have a shrewd streak.
Sadly, the characters are played as archetypes all through, and there isn’t enough fleshing out of their realities and who they are behind these masks that they put on for social niceties. I would have loved to see more of the seductive and mischievous side of the nurse Fay. After all, this is a woman who has just donned an alluring black dress belonging to the dead woman to go to her funeral, and all while relentlessly attempting to get Mr. MacLeavy, the dead woman’s husband, to propose to her.
I also found Harold to be an intriguing character. Here is a young man who has managed to successfully rob a bank, and has unceremoniously dumped his mother’s remains in a cupboard, yet is racked with guilt to the extent that he can’t bring himself to lie to anyone and is constantly giving himself away! He also comes off as quite friendly and trusting, referring to his male partner in crime as “baby.” I wish we had been able to see more of his personality; however, I found that Forster often mumbled and, possibly hampered by his accent, did not seem very engaged with his character.
I appreciate the amount of technical effort it takes to assume a British accent for the length of a two hour show, but I found that it made the performance unnecessarily self-conscious and exaggerated. Often it seemed as though the actors were very focused on trying to maintain the technical mannerisms of their characters at the expense of delivery and timing. As a result, lines that were supposed to be hilarious fell flat or went unnoticed.
From my perspective, not developing the characters enough detracted from the humor that came from realizing that these individuals are not at all what they appear to be on the surface.
By making the technical elements the linchpin of the play, opportunities were missed in terms of character development and in showcasing the absurdity of the events taking place. Somewhere along the way the fact that Joe Orton had penned a farce seems to have gotten lost.
- Loot runs until March 17, 2018 at Alumnae Theatre (70 Berkeley St.)
- Shows run Tuesday to Sunday at 8.00 pm with added matinees at 2.00 pm on weekends.
- Tickets are $30 for general admission, $25 for seniors/students/ arts workers, $21 for equity artists, and $20 for the relaxed performance on March 13, 2018.
- Tickets are available online.
Photo of Kenton Blythe, Kevin Forster, Scott McCulloch and Patrick Young by Emily Dix.