Written by Joe Orton

Thursday 19th July to Saturday 21st July and Monday 23rd July to Saturday 28th July 1990

Directed by Vincent Adams

An embalmed corpse in the cupboard and £100,000 in the coffin: a puzzle that could only be explained by an arresting officer attached to the Water Board! Against such a backdrop Orton exposes the lunacy of accepted society in his satirical portrayal of "everyday life".

AuthorJoe Orton

Joe Orton (1933 - 1967)

Joe Orton was born in Leicester and his childhood was not a particularly happy one. Although not especially poverty stricken, his childhood could nevertheless be described as drab, uninspiring and violent. A clever child, young Joe passed the 11+ exam to go to grammar school but persistent ill health meant that his schooling was sporadic and he failed his exams. Orton set his sights on attending RADA after enjoying his experience on-stage in amateur dramatics. At the age of 18, he joined the Academy where he met Kenneth Halliwell, the man who was to become his friend, his collaborator, his lover and tragically, his murderer.

Orton and Halliwell wrote a number of unsuccessful works together but achieved bizarre notoriety in 1962 when they were convicted and imprisoned for the seemingly innocuous crime of defacing library books. The court passed down a harsh, 6-month sentence for what was ostensibly a prank. However, in an age where homosexuality was still illegal, the fact that the prank included pasting semi-erotic pictures on to covers of what they considered to be 'very dull' books probably influenced the judiciary. Orton later commented that they had been persecuted harshly because they had been discovered to be gay men openly living together.

While for Halliwell, prison was a soul-destroying experience, for Orton, it seemed to be the making of the playwright in him. In his own words, "I tried writing before I went into the nick...but it was no good. Being in the nick brought detachment to my writing...suddenly it worked."

After a number of unsuccessful minor works, Entertaining Mr Sloane was Orton's first major script but the play received mixed response when it opened in 1963. In later venues however, it was voted Best New British Play by Variety's London Critics, moved to Broadway and Orton had his first taste of major success.

In 1966, Orton began again to write a diary (something he had started earlier in life). These later chapters, whilst being a frank and open account of his life, are also well-crafted literary works. They record, among other things the difficulties he experienced in his relationship with Halliwell, but give no clue that the nature of his death at the age of 34, could have been foreseen. The facts of the matter are that in August 1967, Halliwell killed him by repeatedly hitting him about the head with a hammer. Halliwell then took his own life with an overdose and two lives and a promising career were brought to an untimely end.

Joe Orton's published work consists of three stage plays, four short radio/TV plays, a screenplay and a novel.


The play is an extremely dark farce which satirises the Roman Catholic Church, social attitudes to death, and the integrity of the police force and was Orton's third major production. 'Loot' follows the fortunes of two young thieves, Hal and Dennis. Together they rob the bank next to the funeral parlour where Dennis works and return to Hal's home to hide the money. Hal's mother has just died and the money is hidden in her coffin while her body keeps on appearing around the house. Upon the arrival of Inspector Truscott the plot turns topsy turvy as Hal and Dennis try to keep him off their trail.

The first run, starring a miscast Kenneth Williams as Truscott, gained terrible reviews and flopped at the box office. However, after substantial rewrites it gathered momentum, awards and notoriety when it was revived the following year. The play has since gained a reputation as a comic masterpiece and has had many revivals - some notable for all the wrong reasons. In 1984 Paul McGann accidentally dropped the corpse into the stalls on the opening night at the Ambassadors Theatre and Leonard Rossiter, an acclaimed Truscott, died suddenly of heart disease in his dressing room after it had transferred to the Lyric.

Described as a "tour de force of bad taste and high farce", 'Loot' is considered as irreverent, amoral and bizarre. Orton thought even more highly of it: "I have a lot of vices but false modesty is not one of them. And the best thing about Loot is the quality of the writing." Tampering with the conventions of popular farce, Orton creates a hectic world and examines English attitudes and perceptions in the mid twentieth century.

The Bench Production

Loot poster image

This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977. It was the second time Bench Theatre had staged this particular play, the first time being in 1979 at Havant Arts Centre.


McLeavyVincent Adams
FayJane Hemsley-Brown
HalAlan Jenkins
Mrs McLeavySteve Newcombe
TruscottBeth Callen
MeadowsAndrew Caple


Director Vincent Adams
Stage Manager Andrew Caple
Lighting Design Rob Thrush
Lighting Operation Grant Best
Costume Jane Hemsley-Brown
Props Ruth Prior
Set and Poster Design David Penrose
Set Construction David Hemsley-Brown
Front of House Janet Swales, Daniel Shires

Director's Notes

Far from being an overnight success, 'Loot' underwent many revisions, leaving in its wake a depressed and hysterical cast as well as many outraged audiences. with a fresh cast and director it eventually made a successful debut in London in 1966. The result of the revision is a lively script full of epigrams, one-liners and reversals of received common sense that barely has time to catch up with itself.

Orton's play is both parody of and a departure from the contemporary West End conventions and the stylized nature of the traditional farce. His style rejects the artificialities of a comedy-of-manners approach and embraces a potent and pithy form of black comedy breaching, in the case of 'Loot', the tabooed subjects of death and respect for the police. This assault on common sensibilities is the base from which Orton pounces on popular clichés and the banal preoccupations of daily life, thus exposing the lunacy inherent in accepted truths.

The difficult aspect of Orton's work is the struggle between realism and style. Orton wished his material to be played in a realistic manner, but his dialogue is so obviously a script; one which is afforded an exhibitionistic flavour by its epigrammatic nature. This provides a problem for the players because they must deliver comically precise dialogue through a realistically motivated character. As with most things it is a question of compromise, of balancing realism against Orton's stylistic idiosyncrasies.

The characters of 'Loot' are two criminals, one murderess, one corrupt policeman and one law abiding citizen. It is of course the latter who ends up as the victim of the piece, as his foolish faith in authority exposes him to the capricious actions of Inspector Truscott. In the world of 'Loot' the veneer of efficient authority and religious morality is stripped away to reveal that crime certainly does pay.

Vincent Adams

"I suppose I'm a believer in Original Sin. People are profoundly bad, but irresistibly funny."


Production Photographs