Orton with Geraldine McEwan and Kenneth Williams during rehearsals of Loot in 1965

LOOT- 1 OF 3


Loot was Orton’s most successful play while alive, but this was nearly not the case and came close to ending his career as a playwright.

This was Orton’s first real attempt at farce. Farce allowed him to create characters that behaved with no thought for conventional morality, something that was to become his signature style and spawn a new literary term – ‘Ortonesque’.

The play began as a story about a nurse who murders her patients for their money. Orton had completed the first act when he was introduced to Kenneth Williams, celebrated character actor and comedian. They got on very well and Orton left Williams saying ‘I’m writing something at the moment, I’ll write for you.’

The part Orton had in mind was Inspector Truscott, a minor character that he beefed up in the second act. This was a major mistake as it created a disjointed play. Fay, the nurse, went from the main to supporting character and Truscott from minor character to dominating Act 2. Williams accepted the role but subsequently had grave doubts about the play. Rehearsals were difficult and showed up the flawed nature of the play.

Loot opened at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on February 1st 1965. In a letter to Halliwell Orton despairs ’The play is a disaster’. In a review the Cambridge News called it ‘a very bad play’. Orton began a series of rewrites and the cast began a schizophrenic existence, rehearsing the rewrites in the afternoon and performing the original material in the evening. Williams resorted to mugging and his array of stock characters and voices in an attempt to get a laugh, but even this failed to lift the play. On February 16th Geraldine McEwan playing Fay came off the stage in hysterics and had to be taken home and sedated.

The cast were given the option of taking the play to London, they all declined. Loot died an ignominious death after 56 performances and three rewrites. Depressed, Orton and Halliwell left for Morocco for their first holiday abroad to recuperate.

Image © Donald Southern, courtesy of The Orton Estate   Text © Leicester City Council / Orton Quotes: © The Orton Estate  

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