Fifty years ago Joe Orton's subversive black comedy 'Loot' was considered an absolute shocker and was severely censured by the Lord Chamberlain, writes Carol Evans.

Alleged disrespectful references to the church, the police and police procedures were mercilessly removed as were any hints of homosexuality. The play, which won the Evening Standard's Best Play Award, delighted and outraged audiences in equal measure.

Now, modern audiences can see what all the fuss was about at The Watermill Theatre where the original, uncut version has been revived to mark the 50th anniversary of Joe Orton's death and the passing of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, which partially decriminalised homosexual activities.

The action centres around a couple of wide boys and closet gays Hal and Dennis, who break into a bank and then stash the loot in the coffin of Hal's dead mother, Mrs McCleavy. To make room for the dosh, Mrs McCleavy is removed from the coffin, stripped naked, and then dumped unceremoniously upside-down in a cupboard. (Top marks to valiant Anah Ruddin instead of the censor-required dummy.) When a nosy representative from the Metropolitan Water Board turns up (in reality, corrupt police Inspector Truscott), events become manic as the young men try to distract him from finding the spoils of their illicit labours. They are helped in this by on-the-make Irish nurse Fay (a feisty Sinead Matthews) who, incidentally, has already killed off six husbands and is looking at bewildered and bereaved Mr McCleavy (Ian Redford) as her seventh victim.

The ensemble cast clearly enjoyed themselves in this most frenzied and manic of black comedies with its irreverent handling of normally sensitive issues such as death and bereavement, relentless swipes at authority and acerbic one-liners.

And there is no doubt that it still packs a punch. No-one is immune from the author's acute observations, with police practices first in the firing line. Some of the best-received lines came from Christopher Fulford, excellent as the sleazy, over-excited police inspector. "We have a saying under the blue lamp, waste time on the truth and you'll be pounding the beat until the day you retire" and his take on police being men of integrity, "a mistake that has been rectified".

But while Loot - and particularly this uncut production - is excellent and entertaining, it's hard for today's theatregoers to really appreciate the undoubted impact the play had when first staged. Even with re-instated references to Christ being framed, the Pope and its now overt homosexual message, this is still very mild fare compared with what is on offer today.

Loot runs until October 21. Go to