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
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