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Review: Loot at Ad Astra

Review by Sarah Skubala

Ad Astra’s latest offering is Loot, a black comedy by British playwright Joe Orton, which follows the misadventures of two young thieves, Hal and Dennis. They’ve just pulled a bank job next door to the funeral parlour where Dennis works and have returned to Hal’s place to stash the money. Hal’s mother has just passed away, and the money needs to be hidden somewhere secure. How about inside the coffin?

First staged at Cambridge in 1965, Loot received acclaim as a masterwork of dark farce and morbid comedy. Loot premiered on Broadway in 1968 and was adapted into a film in 1970 starring Richard Attenborough. A revival in 1986 saw Kevin Bacon in the role of Dennis, later replaced by Alec Baldwin in his Broadway debut. The play was awarded the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Revival.

Playing with all the conventions of popular farce, Director Jennifer Flowers’ production is commendable. There was plenty of laughter from the audience as the outrageous antics unfolded across the two hours. The creative team included an excellent set by production designer Bill Haycock, with assistant direction and production management by Liam Wallis.

Iain Gardiner was terrific as the doddering father Mr McLeavy; he balanced cluelessness with just the right amount of pathos. As the two thieves, Jett Robson and Liam Hartley as Hal and Dennis made great partners in crime. Robson was funny as the son of the house, leaning into the comedy with abandon. I would have liked the accents between father and son to have been a bit more congruent. Hartley’s comedic timing was impeccable; his stage presence was excellent and his scenes which saw him switching from solemn undertaker to stressed out bank robber were particularly good. His performance left me wanting more and I will be eager to see what he does next.

Fiona Kennedy was marvellous as Fay with her skilful Irish brogue and peroxide hair. Deftly switching from grieving nurse to scheming femme fatale, we quickly learned that Fay is a black widow who has been married seven times and each of her husbands died under mysterious circumstances. Fay spends a large part of her time locking down her next prey with hilarious results.

Steven Grives was superb as Truscott, the detective posing as an inspector from the water board. In a performance reminiscent of Bookman, the Library Cop from Seinfeld, his dry, suspicious wit and gruff delivery was right on the money, complete with hat and trench coat. James Enwright had a notable Act Two cameo as Truscott’s colleague, Meadows.

Special mention must go to Lisa Hickey who played the deceased Mrs McLeavy. It was the best performance of a corpse I have ever seen. Hickey was shuffled all over the stage, including being locked into a coffin, stuffed in the cupboard (luckily it was a stage cupboard; I was nervous there for a minute), and de-robed and wrapped up like a mummy. Her stillness was excellent and her characterisation utterly believable.

Loot is a delightfully morbid romp and Ad Astra are to be congratulated for bringing Joe Orton’s most famous work to a Brisbane audience. 

Image Credit: Christopher Sharman


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