Orton classic requires strictly acting role from Matt di Angelo
Joe Orton was a playwright who specialised in blackly comic farces, designed to cause outrage. Back in 1964 incest and prostitution weren t polite topics of conversation, but his drama The Ruffian On the Stair featured both, writes Katie Masters. His se
Joe Orton was a playwright who specialised in blackly comic farces, designed to cause outrage. Back in 1964 incest and prostitution weren't 'polite' topics of conversation, but his drama The Ruffian On the Stair featured both, writes Katie Masters.
His second work, Entertaining Mr Sloane, took on homosexuality and bisexuality at a time when committing a homosexual act could see you sent to prison.
Tonight a production of his 1965 play, Loot, opens at the Tricycle. The plot revolves around two bank robbers - Hal and Dennis - who've got a bag of swag they need to hide. Bringing it back to Hal's, they decide the best place for it is inside the coffin of Hal's recently deceased mum (coffin and body are in the house, awaiting burial).
As it turns out, there's not room in the coffin for corpse and cash, so the corpse gets turfed out. But then things start to get complicated, as the Old Bill arrives in the shape of the unscrupulous Inspector Truscott...
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Sixties society thought Loot was scandalous. Not only did it satirise conventions of respecting the dead, it also made pointed reference to the notion of police corruption.
Four decades on those themes are less shocking, but the play's farcical comedy remains.
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"It's a really fun play to do," says Matt di Angelo, who plays Hal. "But it's tiring - we're constantly running round with coffins and dead bodies!"
The Tricycle cast is full of seasoned theatre actors - including Olivier Award-winning David Haig, who plays Truscott - but this is di Angelo's first professional stage outing. Until now his work has been in film or television: before he Cha Cha Cha'd his way onto the 2007 Strictly Come Dancing Stage he was best known for playing wayward Deano Wicks in EastEnders.
"So I'm a lucky boy to be working with such good, experienced theatre actors on Loot," di Angelo says. "This is raising the bar for me. Television's very different to the theatre. It's so fast-paced you don't have time to think through the meanings and motives behind what's happening. But at the first rehearsal for this we were dissecting lines and talking about movement. I said, in jest, 'I'd normally have shot this by now and be off home'."
Di Angelo's a North Londoner. He grew up in Enfield and had his first job at the age of nine, when he was cast in an advert.
"I can't remember what it was for, some kind of food. I did a lot of food adverts. I always look happiest when I'm eating."
He followed that by winning a scholarship to the Sylvia Young Theatre School, in Marylebone, at the age of 13.
"I've known since I was nine that acting was what I wanted to do," he says. "I wasn't very academic so there wasn't anything else I could do."
Having said that, he admits that since his debut on the dance floor, offers have been coming in that focus on his hip-swivelling agility.
During Strictly Come Dancing di Angelo famously fell for his partner, Flavia Cacace. The one fly in that ointment was that, at the start of the series, Cacace was involved in a long-term relationship with another of the show's dancers, Vincent Simone.
Rumours of romance were rife during the show, and since it finished the two did get together. That relationship's been avidly followed in the press, with regular gossip about the couple alternately splitting up or moving in together. Di Angelo is clearly fed up with the speculation, feeling that his private life is his own business.
But he does use a giveaway plural pronoun when he says there have been, "A lot of offers to do our own show - spin-off shows, presenting and stuff."
Whether anything will come of that is another issue. Di Angelo says his focus this year has been to learn and to make wise choices about the roles he takes on. He's got a part in the BBC drama Hustle and has been signed up to play a lead in a Sadie Frost-produced film called Function in the Junction.
"It's a martial arts film. I play a dancing martial arts expert. Mark Ronson's doing the soundtrack and Rhys Ifans is in it."
And of course there's Loot "where I'm playing an amoral, bisexual bank robber. I don't see too much of myself in him - except that he's a young guy with aspirations and dreams. I can relate to that hunger of knowing what you want. And this play's very sharp, very on-the-ball. It's a challenge. I'm excited to see how I get on."
Loot is on at The Tricycle until January 31. For tickets call the Box office on 020-7328 1000.