McCarter Theatre
Education Department


A Teacher Resource Guide

by Laurie Sales

Designed by Francine Schiffman

Offered in conjunction with the McCarter Theatre production
September 8 - September 29, 2002

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what's in the script?

mccarter's production

behind the scenes

other voices

study questions

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drama in the classroom

The Visual and Performing Arts are considered Core Curriculum areas for the New Jersey State Department of Education. This production of Loot is designed to give your students exposure to the specific Core Curriculum Standards listed below.

Loot and Curriculum Standards

This production of Loot and related study materials will provide students with specific knowledge and skills to address the following Core Curriculum Content Standards in the Arts:

1.1All students will acquire knowledge and skills that increase aesthetic awareness in dance, music, theatre, and visual arts.
1.2All students will refine perceptual, intellectual, physical, and technical skills through creating dance, music, theater, and/or visual arts.
1.4All students will demonstrate knowledge of the process of critique.
1.5All students will identify the various historical, social, and cultural influences and traditions which have generated artistic accomplishments throughout the ages and which continue to shape contemporary arts.
1.6All students will develop design skills for planning the form and function of space, structures, objects, sound, and events.

Loot is also designed to address the following Core Curriculum Standards in Language Arts Literacy:

3.1All students will speak for a variety of real purposes and audiences.
3.2All students will listen actively in a variety of situations to information from a variety of sources.
3.3All students will write in clear, concise, organized language that varies in content and form for different audiences and purposes.
3.4All students will read various materials and texts with comprehension and critical analysis.

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LOOTLoot will open McCarter Theatre's 2002-2003 season under the direction of Daniel Fish, who returns to McCarter after his productions of The Learned Ladies and The Importance of Being Earnest. A brilliant comedy by Joe Orton, the provocative playwright who has been hailed as Britain's heir apparent to Oscar Wilde, (with a little Monty Python thrown in!), Loot is widely considered a masterpiece of the modern British stage. Its fiendish and farcical plot involves an inept bank robber, his recently deceased mother, and the storage of possibilities of an unoccupied coffin. While much of its action borrows from the conventions of farce, its humor is subversive and the play still has the ability to send up the conventions of middle class morality with rebellious (and sometimes distasteful) abandon. Outrageous as it is entertaining, its hilarious depiction of a world gone mad displays Orton's talent at its subversive best.

When Loot premiered at the Arts Theatre in Cambridge, England on February 1, 1965 the critical responses to the play were far less than favorable, and exception was taken to "Mr. Orton's repetitive and nasty sense of humor." The play, although advertised as on a pre-West End tour, was withdrawn after six weeks of indifferent or hostile notices in the provincial press. Loot was revived in April, 1966 by Graham Murray at the University of Manchester, then remounted by the London Traverse Company at the Jeanetta Cochrane Theatre in September, 1966. The London debut was an overwhelming critical success and the play transferred to the Criterion Theatre in the West End. Despite its rocky start, Loot won the Evening Standard Drama Award as the Best Play of 1966 and opened on Broadway at the Biltmore Theatre in March, 1968.

Throughout this Guide you will find suggested topics for class discussion as well as in-class activities and study questions to consider both before and after you see the production. These questions are collected at the end of the Resource Guide, but are referenced throughout the Guide for your convenience.

Study Questions: Pre-Show Questions

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plot description

Set in London in 1965, the story of Loot revolves around the members of the McLeavy family and the events surrounding the death and subsequent burial of the family matriarch. As Mr. McLeavy grieves his wife's passing, his son Hal schemes to hide the profits of a bank job he has just pulled off with his sometime boyfriend, Dennis.

Dennis decides that Mrs. McLeavy's coffin is the ideal place to stash their newly found fortune, if only they could find someplace else to put the corpse. First they attempt to hide it in a cupboard while Fay, Mrs. McLeavy's lusty young nurse, proposes marriage to Mr. McLeavy. In the middle of this scheming, the suspicious and abusive Inspector Truscott appears, disguising his identity with the claim that he is from the City Water Board.

While Truscott is initially unable to uncover the money, or any hard facts to link Dennis and Hal to the bank robbery, he reveals that he has information about Nurse Fay and her past, including details of the demises of her seven former husbands. As the preparations for the funeral proceed, Dennis pledges his love to Fay, insisting that she marry him and not McLeavy. Fay scoffs at his boyish fancy and insists that Hal unlock the cupboard for her. When Fay discovers the corpse of Mrs. McLeavy, Hal agrees to give her a share of the loot and she helps them to strip the body, wrap it in sheets and disguise it as a sewing dummy.

Finally the hearse heads off for the funeral, which Fay and Hal both refuse to attend. Truscott takes this opportunity to put pressure on Hal. Just as Hal and Truscott are coming to blows, Mr. McLeavy and Dennis return, shaken and bruised from an accident on the way to the graveyard, though Mr. McLeavy is pleased at least to announce that his wife's coffin has remained unharmed.

Finally, Truscott puts the pieces of the plot together and reveals his true identity. Truscott suggests that Fay is an infamous nurse killer and further accuses her of murdering Mrs. McLeavy by poison. He demands that Mrs. McLeavy's stomach be taken from the casket to be investigated. Due to the accident, however, the stomach has been destroyed and no proof is available, allowing Fay to get off scott free.

Truscott, by now extremely frustrated, tries to implicate Fay as an accessory to the bank robbery. He shows McLeavy a glass eye, which he found on the floor, an eye that had fallen from the late Mrs. McLeavy. Mr. McLeavy realizes that his son is involved in foul play and demands that the coffin be opened. Truscott finds this request outrageous and troublesome but McLeavy insists. The coffin is opened and McLeavy is stunned by the absence of his wife's body. He quickly realizes the true identity of Fay's sewing dummy. Truscott urges McLeavy to make an accusation so that he may make an arrest, but McLeavy chooses to accuse himself rather than his son. Truscott snatches the casket, which swings open and the stolen bank notes fall out. Hal suggests bribery to the police officer who eagerly accepts. McLeavy threatens Truscott and the others, promising that he will expose their crimes. Truscott's partner, Meadows, arrests McLeavy and takes him away and Truscott heads home, taking the casket with him for safekeeping. Dennis is now free to marry Fay, and the threesome, left alone in the house with the unburied corpse, pledge to "keep up appearances."

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character profiles

Mr. McLeavy

Mr. McLeavy is a naive soul with an affinity for roses, especially those that are tucked into the various wreaths that greet his wife's recent death. As honest and respectable as the day is long, Mr. McLeavy is duped into taking the heat for the crimes of everyone around him.

"It's people like myself who have the easy time. Asleep at nights. Despite appearances to the contrary, criminals are poor sleepers."

Nurse Fay

The "loyal" and seductive nurse of the recently deceased Mrs. McLeavy claims to be a strict and practicing Catholic though she has been through seven husbands in ten years. She tends to those around her wearing one of Mrs. McLeavy's own dresses and pursues Mr. McLeavy and his bank account with a persistence and vigor that many would consider highly inappropriate.

"You've been a widower for three days. Have you considered a second marriage yet?"


The McLeavys' son is a common thief who, despite his recent bank heist, is compelled to tell the truth at all times. With a matter-of-fact charm he expounds upon his dream to take his newly found wealth and open a brothel unlike any other in the city.

"I'd like to run a brothel. I'd run a two-star brothel. And if I prospered I'd graduate to a three-star brothel. I'd advertise 'By Appointment'. Like jam."


Hal's bisexual companion is more adept at dealing with authorities and sticky situations than his wide-eyed partner is. Shrewd at manipulating the circumstances around him, Dennis uses his work as an undertaker's assistant to provide necessary diversions and escape plans. His weakness seems to be Fay, who considers his wealth more seriously than his oaths of love.

"I'd like to get married. It's the one thing I haven't tried."


Overbearing and shamelessly abusive, Inspector Truscott fancies himself an uncommonly gifted detective. Using only a hat for disguise, Truscott worms his way into the McLeavy household, making bold assumptions and outrageous proclamations every step of the way. Presenting a skewed sense of what is moral in the eyes of the law, Truscott is more easily bought than any of the other characters in the play.

"You have before you a man who is quite a personage in his way -- Truscott of the Yard. Have you never heard of Truscott? The man who tracked down the limbless girl killer? Or was that sensation before your time?"

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glossary of terms

LOOT - 1. goods usually of considerable value taken in war : 2. something appropriated illegally often by force or violence b : illicit gains by public officials 3 : the action of looting.

Leeds: industrial city in West Yorkshire.

Society: organization, presumably Catholic, that supervises nursing assignments.

Benedictine monk: member of the monastic order established by St. Benedict.

fortnight: a period of two weeks.

annulment: a judicial pronouncement declaring a marriage invalid.

embalm: to treat (a dead body) so as to protect from decay.

Papal dispensation: authorization by the Pope which provide exemption from a rule of church law.

bequest: to give or leave by will -- used especially of personal property.

W.V.S.: Women's Voluntary Service, a charitable organization initially founded in 1938 to help with the war effort in England, and continuing to facilitate volunteer efforts at the local level.

knocked us up: woke us up.

Papal nuncio: the Vatican's diplomatic representative.

Freudian: relating to the psychoanalytic theories or practices of Freud- the founder of psychoanalysis who developed theories based on repressed memories, examined infantile sexuality and dreams, and developed concept of id, ego, superego.

bird: a mildly offensive term for a woman.

Borstal: a well-known reformatory for juvenile delinquents.

cobblers: testicles.

'strewth: God's truth.

bereavement: the loss of a loved one by death.

Mother's Union: A worldwide organization founded in England in 1876, committed to Christian family life.

fait accompli: a thing accomplished and presumably irreversible.

effing and blinding: colloquialism for swearing.

coatee: a short coat.

Burke and Hare: two notorious 19th century grave robbers and murderers who sold corpses to Edinburgh medical schools.

'By Appointment.' Like jam: products (like jam) that receive royal patronage are marked with the monarch's seal of approval. ('By Appointment to her Majesty the Queen.').

kip: sleep.

Consummatum Est: Latin for "It is finished." Christ's last words.

take the mickey: tease, make fun of.

allure: power of attraction or fascination.

piss-taking: attempts to mock, to deflate.

M.P.: Member of Parliament.

put them in the club: make them pregnant.

on sus: on suspicion of.

Holloway: prison for women in north London.

euthanasia: the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy.

muezzin: Muslim official who issues the call to prayer.

Armageddon: the end of the world.

stroppy: difficult to deal with.

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in the spotlight: director daniel fish

How does a director approach the rehearsal process for a play such as Loot? What are the ins and outs of this play that make it an exciting endeavor for one of the nation's most prominent young directors? How does director Daniel Fish make the text come alive in the rehearsal room?

At the first rehearsal of the McCarter production of Loot, Fish spoke about the play as a piece that, while often thought of as farcical, should be performed naturalistically, with a strong basis in emotional reality. In this subsequent interview with Associate Director of Education Laurie Sales, Fish discusses in more depth his choices surrounding the style of Loot, the specific artistic challenges inherent in the script, and his goals with this production.

Daniel FishLS: You are returning to McCarter to direct Loot which is a very different kind of play than the Oscar Wilde and Moliere works you have done here in the past. What drew you to this play?

DF: McCarter gave me the play and at first I didn't know why they gave it to me because I've done a lot of style plays -- classical plays -- and this is a contemporary play set in the sixties. But at the same time it really is a style play. I think it's a language play and it's a play that questions authority, questions what we hold sacred and does it in a way that is purely of the theatre. It is apparently realistic and yet it bears no resemblance to any kind of reality -- it is its own reality. In that sense, it's just like Wilde and it's just like Moliere.

LS: When you approach this play, what about it is similar to the way you approach Wilde or Moliere?

DF: I think one of the similarities is that, in the playing of it, there is a real concern for a total commitment to the reality of the moment. It's as if the characters can do and say these extraordinary things because they don't have any real history outside of that moment. They have to totally commit to what they are saying and doing at that moment. The play itself is its own world, with its own rules, its own vocabulary, its own logic, its own morals or "immorals" and those things are totally unique to Orton in the same way that they are totally unique to Wilde or Moliere. I think that for me, that really is the definition of a style play -- when the signature of the author's will is so distinct that there is something about that voice that is peculiar, twisted, and utterly of this person. It infuses the whole play.

LS: So when you speak of the acting in the play needing to be naturalistic, you are talking about within this world Orton has created?

DF: I wouldn't say the play itself is naturalistic. I would say that there is a style to the play and our task is to make the style truthful.

LS: Is that one of the biggest challenges that comes up for the actors in the rehearsal room as you are working on the play?

DF: There is a desire to play for the laugh and I think the actor has to really be as committed as he or she can possibly be to the reality of every moment. The hard thing, of course, is that it bears no resemblance to any kind of reality that we are familiar with. I mean they are taking a body out of a coffin and throwing money in a coffin and such, and so you can say that you have to play it as if it were real life, but nothing in real life happens this way.

LS: You referred to this as a language play. In what way does the language function in the play?

DF: There is a particular rhythm to the play. In order to find the humor, the actors have to take the thoughts, which are very long, and pay attention to where the breath should be. If a line is too broken up or if the breath comes in the middle of the thought as opposed to the end of the thought, I think you lose the humor. A lot of what we are working on in the rehearsal room right now is sustaining the thought all the way through. Another interesting thing that someone said to me about these characters is that their egos are in the syntax and I think that is very true and important. I think all the characters are megalomaniacs. And, again, that's not reflected so much in who their parents were or what their histories are, which is what we normally think of as Stanislavski realism, but it is actually in what they say. Their characters, their minds, their psychologies, their wants are all expressed in the structure of what they say. In that sense it is like what we refer to as a "classical play."

LS: How is directing Loot, which is set in England in the 1960s different from directing a classical play?

DF: I don't really think of plays as classical, in the sense that I don't think there are old plays and new plays. I just think there are good plays and bad plays. Which is something Orton says, he says there are no commercial plays or non-commercial plays. There are just good plays and bad plays. This is a good play. You can see that in the first line. I think that in all really good plays the first line captures something of the tone of the play. The first line of this play is, "Wake up. Stop dreaming." What makes it perfect is that there is a kind of impish optimism to "Wake up," and then there is a little bit of a jab with "Stop dreaming." So there is an edge of anger and an edge of rebellion, which is the key to the style of the play. And that's exactly why you have to play it seriously.

Daniel Fish

The Importance of Being Earnest Director Daniel Fish returns to McCarter Theatre where he has directed The Importance of Being Earnest and The Learned Ladies. Recent work includes the English-language premiere of Charles L. Mee's True Love (Zipper Theatre) and Lee Bleesing's Black Sheep. He has directed plays by Shakespeare, Moliere, Strindberg, Chekhov, Goldoni and Wilde at theaters throughout the U.S. Some of his credits include Twelfth Night (The Shakespeare Theatre, Washington, D.C.), Romeo and Juliet (Great Lakes Theatre Festival) and Cymbeline (California Shakespeare Festival).

Mr. Fish has developed new plays at The O'Neill Playwrights Conference, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, The Playwrights Center, McCarter Theatre and Bay Street Theatre. His work has also been seen at The Ahmanson Theatre, Court Theatre, Intiman Theatre, Round House Theatre, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, SUNY Purchase, The Juilliard School and in Washington D.C.'s public schools through the touring productions for The Shakespeare Theatre. Upcoming work includes Ghosts (Classic Stage Company) and the premiere of David Rabe's The Black Monk (Yale Repertory Theatre). From 1989-93, he was the Assistant Director of The Shakespeare Theatre and has worked as Associate Director with Micahel Kahn and Sir Peter Hall. Mr. Fish is a graduate of Northwestern University's Department of Performance Studies and teaches at The Yale School of Drama.

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joe orton biography

Joe Orton, wrote his official biographer John Lahr, "was an iconoclast who believed there was no sense being a rebel without applause." The words that describe Orton's work -- brilliant, subversive and outrageous -- could also be applied to his brief and dazzling life.

EnglandJohn Kingsley Orton was born on January 1, 1933 in Leicester, England to a working class family that valued neither affection nor emotion. Largely self-educated (he failed at school but avidly pursued reading and classical music), the adolescent Orton was drawn to the fantasies and possibilities of theatre, and developed an ambition to act. His aim, he wrote, was "to be connected with the stage in some way, with the magic of the Theatre and everything it means. I know now I shall always want to act and I can no more sit in an office all my life than fly."

In 1951, Orton was accepted to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, where he met Kenneth Halliwell, a fellow student and former classics scholar seven years his senior. Their tumultuous relationship lasted sixteen years--the rest of their lives--and saw a major reversal in their relationship from which Halliwell, ultimately, would never recover. Depressive, egotistic, abrasive, Halliwell was the intellectual who invited his younger lover to share in his dream of becoming a successful writer. Orton, initially an insecure actor, soon developed the unique voice that brought him extraordinary success and earned him praise as the most successful comic playwright since Oscar Wilde.

From 1953 to 1963, Orton and Halliwell jointly wrote a series of unpublished novels and plays. They also gained notoriety for a literary endeavor of a far different kind: stealing and defacing public library books in satirical ways. In 1962, both men were arrested and imprisoned for "maliciously damaging" more than 70 library books, including removing more than 1,650 plates from art books. By this time, however, Orton-- who had begun to write independently from Halliwell several years earlier--was also beginning to achieve his first literary success. Soon after the BBC accepted a radio version of his script The Ruffian on the Stair in 1963, he embarked on the full-length play, Entertaining Mr. Sloane, which would launch his career, and he acquired a literary agent, the legendary Margaret Ramsay. "His writing," Lahr notes, "took on a playful antic quality of a man who, now a 'criminal,' had nothing to lose from society." That sense of freedom spilled over into Orton's life as well as his art, particularly in the extensive, often anonymous, sexual encounters that are recounted in his Diaries.

What the Butler SawBetween 1964 and 1967 Orton completed his theatrical masterpieces, both farces: Loot (which won the 1967 Evening Standard Award and Plays and Players Award as best new play of the year) and What the Butler Saw. Blazingly ferocious attacks on societal conformity and sexual guilt, the plays are inspired verbal and visual assaults on what Orton saw as the inadequacies of such institutions as the church and the law.

On August 10, 1967, however, it all came to an end. Halliwell, increasingly jealous of Orton in their later years together, bashed his lover's head in with a hammer and then committed suicide by swallowing 22 sleeping pills. "At the time," Lahr writes, "Orton's death was more famous than his plays. But the years and our farcical history have reversed this situation. Nobody came closer than Orton to reviving on the English stage the outrageousness and violent prankster's spirit of comedy and creating the purest (and rarest) of drama's by-products: joy."

Joe Orton Biography courtesy of Intiman Theatre

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joe orton works

All of Joe Orton's stage and television plays are available in one paperback volume, Orton: The Complete Plays (Grove Press), which also contains an introduction by his biographer John Lahr.

Orton: The Complete Plays

Plays (Stage and Television)
The Ruffian on the Stair
Entertaining Mr. Sloane
The Good and Faithful Servant
The Erpingham Camp
Funeral Games
What the Butler Saw

Up Against It

Head to Toe (published posthumously)

The Orton Diaries, edited by John Lahr

Prick Up Your Ears by John Lahr

Information courtesy of Intiman Theatre

Study Questions: After the Show

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the loot timeline

Joe Orton
Playwright Joe Orton, 1965

John Kingsley Orton born Jan 1.

Fails the eleven-plus examinations.

Begins private elocution lessons with Madame Rothery to deal with a lisp and Lancastrian dialect.

Begins to study at R.A.D.A. and meets Kenneth Halliwell.

Orton and Halliwell write a novel together, The Silver Bucket.

Writes another collaboration with Halliwell, The Boy Hairdresser, a blank verse satire.

Orton writes the novel, Between Us Girls, independently of Halliwell.

Writes the novel, The Vision of Gombold Proval, published posthumously as Head To Toe. Submits The Visit to the Royal Court Theatre in London.

Is arrested on May 5th with Halliwell for damaging library books. They spend six months in jail.

The Ruffian on the Stair is sold to the BBC, Orton writes Entertaining Mr. Sloane and acquires a literary agent.

Entertaining Mr. Sloane opens at the New Arts Theatre in London; Orton writes Loot.

Loot opens at the Arts Theatre; Orton visits Tangiers and writes The Erpingham Camp. Entertaining Mr. Sloane opens at the Lyceum Theater in New York.

The Erpingham Camp opens at the Royal Court Theatre. Orton begins writing his Diaries and What The Butler Saw; his mother dies on December 26.

Loot wins awards from Evening Standard and Plays and Players. Orton writes a screenplay for the Beatles that is never produced. AUGUST 9: Orton is murdered by Halliwell with a hammer. Halliwell then takes his own life. Loot ends its run after 400 performances.

Loot opens at the Biltmore Theater in New York.

What the Butler Saw opens in London; Crimes of Passion opens in New York.

What the Butler Saw opens in New York.

A retrospective Joe Orton season is held at the Royal Court Theatre.

John Lahr publishes Prick Up Your Ears, a biography of Joe Orton.

Loot opens at the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York and is transferred to the Music Box Theatre. Diaries is published.

The film version of Prick Up Your Ears is released.

What The Butler Saw opens at the Manhattan Theater Club in New York. Britain's Homosexual Bill becomes a law, decriminalizing consensual homosexuality by adults and establishing 21 as the age of adulthood. Tom Ross's musical adaptation of Up Against It opens at the Public Theater in New York.

What The Butler Saw opens on the Lyttelton stage of the Royal National Theatre.

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joe on joe

Who is Joe Orton? Since his untimely and unfortunate death at the age of thirty-three, Joe Orton's work has taken on special significance in the world of the theatre.

The term "Ortonesque" defines, as Maurice Charney of Rutgers University puts it, "a mixture of farce and viciousness, especially as it expresses itself in the greed, lust and aggression that lie just beneath the surface of British middle-class properties."

But what would Joe Orton himself say to this? The following are excerpts from an interview with Joe Orton that was conducted by Barry Hanson and that was featured in the program notes of Peter Gill's Royal Court production of The Erpingham Camp and The Ruffian on the Stair in June 1967, the year that Joe Orton was murdered.

On his early years:
Joe Orton"I was born in Leicester thirty-three years ago. Father a gardener, mother a machinist. I had quite an ordinary schooling. I didn't get my eleven plus. I wanted it at the time. So I left school and did this supposedly business course for a year, but it didn't do me any good because I'd no aptitude for keeping accounts and things like that... Yes, I was sacked from all the jobs I had between sixteen and eighteen because I was never interested in any of them. I resented having to go to work in the morning and very often I didn't bother - I just looked in shop windows, or if it was a nice sunny morning I'd sit in the Town Hall square and have an ice-cream."

"At night I belonged to an amateur dramatic society, in fact I belonged to so many it got ridiculous - the rehearsals for the shows clashed. I wanted to be an actor but didn't know how to go about it so I wrote to the Information Bureau in Leicester. They said I'd have to go to R.A.D.A. or some recognized dramatic academy and they gave me a whole list of elocution teachers."

On his time at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art:
"I didn't have a very good time at R.A.D.A. really, because I found that in the very first term I actually expected to be taught something. It was complete rubbish. I wasn't taught anything and I learned at the end of the term that I was more enthusiastic and knew more about acting at the beginning of my first term than I did at the end. And during the next two terms, I had two years there, I completely lost my confidence and my virginity."

Lady DartmouthOn his arrest:
"I don't have a chip on my shoulder about having been sent to prison. I do know, however, that the kind of people who walked out of Loot are the kind of people who are magistrates. Now they can't do anything about me as the author of Loot, but when I was in their power, the same person before I wrote either Loot or Entertaining Mr. Sloane, then they could do something. No, I realize what I did was unforgivable, I'm just unrepentant. But I objected to public money going on dull, badly written books under the heads of successful lady authors on the backs of their book jackets. I think one was written by Lady Dartmouth. The libraries had a tremendous amount of space for rubbish but none for good books. I also used to write false blurbs on the book flap, which the Magistrate described as mildly obscene. So they made an example of me. My activities had been going on for a long time."

On violence in plays:
"I hope that the violence in my plays is not of an inconsequential nature, I mean, not violence for its own sake. I'm always horrified by violence in some things, especially American films and novels. I watched an American series on T.V. called "The Invaders" and the violence in that seems to me purely gratuitous. I mean, it was necessary for the old man in 'Sloane' to be beaten up on the purely pragmatic grounds of the plot and I couldn't have had the play working otherwise, in the same way to go back to the old cliché about Shakespeare; you can't have certain scenes in 'King Lear' without having Gloucester's eyes put out. No, violence for its own sake I'm very much against. "

On style:
"The style isn't super-imposed. It's me. You can't write stylized comedy in inverted commas, because the style must ring of the man, and if you think in a certain way and you write true to yourself, which I hope I am, then you will get a style, a style will come out. You've only got to be sitting on a bus and you'll hear the most stylized lines. People think I write fantasy, but I don't; some things may be exaggerated or distorted in the way some painters distort and alter things, but they're realistic figures. They're perfectly recognizable. I don't like the discrimination against style that some people have, every serious writer has a style. I mean, Arnold Wesker has a style, but people don't normally think of him as a stylist, in the same way they think of Wilde, Firbank or Sheridan. Style isn't camp or chi-chi. I write in a certain way because I can express in naturalistic terms. In the whole naturalistic movement of the 20's and 30's you can't ultimately have anything except discussions of Mavis's new hat; you can't have people. With the naturalistic style I couldn't make any comment on the kind of policeman that Truscott is, or on the laws of the Establishment. Oscar Wilde's style is much more earthly and colloquial than most people notice. When we look at Lady Bracknell, she's the most ordinary, common direct woman, she's not an affected woman at all. People are taken in by "the glittering style". It's not glitter. Congreve is the same. It's real - a slice of life. It's just very brilliantly written, perfectly believable. Nothing at all incredible."

On process:
"I always rewrite plays. I get an idea and I do several drafts of it. What I usually do is to put it away for a while and then do a final rewrite. In fact, The Ruffian on the Stair was written in 1964 and the B.B.C. did it. But the version we're doing in Crimes of Passion is only vaguely like it, because since then I've had a whole new idea, although the skeleton is the same, a lot of it is totally different and totally new and I'm now satisfied that that is as far as I can go in this particular play and I don't want to do anything on it ever again so that I've got that out of my system. It's the same with Erpingham Camp, because I did a version of it for television. It all began when Lindsay Anderson gave me this idea. He said he was doing a film, which he'd got from the Bacchae. He asked if I could do anything with it. I said I'd like to and went away and wrote 17 pages. Lindsay read it, but it wasn't his idea any longer, so I was left with the 17 pages, but what I'd done had really interested me so I turned it into a play for television, and when television had finished with it, there was another gap of a year by which time I'd thought about it a lot more in stage terms, and I completely rewrote the characters. Now I've got that out of my system."

On England:
"England, I don't know what will happen to it. I think there's a certain section of England that's marvellous. You can call it swinging London, but it just sort of expresses something that is there, a splendid liberalism, but only in a certain little bit of London. I mean, in New York, when Dudley Sutton was in 'Sloane' and had to have his hair dyed, it was very embarrassing. People actually passed remarks in the street, whereas they wouldn't here. You can do all sorts of things in London, and long may it be so."

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orton: the dentures in the dummy

You can view Ryan McKittrick's insightful essay on Joe Orton and Loot by visiting

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related materials

The following resources were useful in the preparation of this guide:

Bigsby, C.W.E. Joe Orton, Contemporary Writers Series. London: Methuen, 1982.

Charney, Maurice. Joe Orton. London: Macmillan, 1984.

Lahr, John. Prick Up Your Ears: The Biography of Joe Orton. New York: Knopf, 1978.

Masters, Brian. The Swinging Sixties. Century Publishing, 1985.

Rusinko, Susan. Joe Orton. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1995.

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preshow questions

1. Introduce your class to the concept of farce. Break this theatrical style down to a list of essential components. Prepare your class to decide whether or not Loot is a farce.

2. Offer your students background information about playwright Joe Orton. Discuss what expectations they have of Loot if art in some way imitates life.

3. Discuss with your students our society's response to death and the ceremonies that surround death. Why are these ceremonies sacred? What kind of behaviors would your students consider disrespectful? Why?

4. Discuss with your students the role of the actor and director in a play. How might a director and/or actor prepare to do a play that is set in England in the sixties?

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after the show

After the show, ask your students the following questions.

1. Why do you think Joe Orton wrote Loot? What criticisms of society do you think he was expressing?

2. What choices did the designers make and how did you feel they added to the production?

3. Which character in Loot do you like the best? What qualities make that character attractive? Which character do you feel Joe Orton wanted the audience to like the best? How did he or didn't he accomplish making that character likable?

4. Is this play a farce? Based on what you know about farce, how does this fit into that genre? What about Loot does not fit into the farce genre?

5. Have the students list all actions in Loot that they consider to be immoral or indecent. Rank them in order from most offensive to least. Discuss with the class what makes one crime worse than another crime. Compare this list to the way in which Orton portrayed these actions. Which did Orton portray as the most offensive? Which the least?

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enhance the performance

1. Discuss the aspects of the production with your students. Be sure to include the set, costume, lighting and sound design in the discussion. Encourage the students to think about the choices that the artists made. Have each student write a critique of the performance.

2. Using another theatrical text as a model, point out the purpose of stage directions. Have your class break into groups and create 3 minute scenes that contain stage directions that are essential to telling the story of the scene. Compare this exercise with the non-verbal actions in Loot.

3. Using a scene from the play, have the actors act out different roles in contrasting styles. First have the students play the parts to cartoonish extremes, then have the same actors, or another set of actors play the parts as realistically as possible. Discuss the effects of the two different versions.

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