Joe Orton

English playwright and author Joe Orton, was Born 1 January 1933. His public career was short but prolific, lasting from 1964 until his death in1967. During this brief period he shocked, outraged, and amused audiences with his scandalous black comedies. The adjective Ortonesque is sometimes used to refer to work characterised by a similarly dark yet farcical cynicism. He attended a writing course at Clark’s College in Leicester from 1945 to 1947.He then began working as a junior clerk on £3 a week and became interested in performing in the theatre around 1949 and joined a number of different dramatic societies, including the prestigious Leicester Dramatic Society. While working on amateur productions he was also determined to improve his appearance and physique, buying bodybuilding courses, taking elocution lessons, and trying to redress his lack of education and culture. He applied for a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in November 1950. He was accepted, and left the East Midlands for London. His entrance into RADA was delayed until May 1951 by appendicitis.

Orton met Kenneth Halliwell at RADA in 1951 and moved into a West Hampstead flat with him and two other students. Halliwell was seven years older than Orton and They quickly formed a strong relationship and became lovers.After graduating, both Orton and Halliwell went into regional repertory work: Orton spent four months in Ipswich and Halliwell in Llandudno, Wales. Both returned to London and became writers. They collaborated on a number of unpublished novels but had little success. The rejection of the novel The Last Days of Sodom, in 1957 led them to solo works.

From 1957–1959, Orton and Halliwell worked at Cadbury’s and moved into a small, austere flat at 25 Noel Road inIslington in 1959. Orton and his friends would often amuse themselves with pranks and hoaxes. Orton created the alter ego Edna Welthorpe, an elderly theatre snob, whom he would later revive to stir controversy over his plays. Orton chose the name as an allusion to Terence Rattigan’s “Aunt Edna”, Rattigan’s archetypal playgoer. They also stole books from the local library and modify the cover art or the blurbs before returning them to the library. A volume of poems by John Betjeman, for example, was returned to the library with a new dustjacket featuring a photograph of a nearly naked, heavily tattooed, middle-aged man. The couple decorated their flat with many of the prints. They were eventually discovered and prosecuted for stealing and damaging library books in May 1962 which was reported in Daily Mirror as “Gorilla in the Roses”.

They were sentenced to prison for six months (released September 1962) and fined £262, which they felt was unduly harsh “because we were queers”. However, prison would be a crucial formative experience for Orton; the isolation from Halliwell allowed him to see the corruptness, priggishness, and double standards of a purportedly liberal society in Britain. The book covers that Orton and Halliwell vandalised have subsequently become a valued part of the Islington Local History Centre collection and Some are exhibited in the Islington Museum. Orton began to write plays in the early 1960s. He wrote the Ruffian In 1963 which was broadcast on Radio and substantially rewritten for the stage in 1966, by which time he had completed his next play Entertaining Mr Sloane, Which premiered at the New Arts Theatre on 6 May 1964, And garnered critical praise from playwright Terence Rattigan, who invested £3,000 to ensure its survival and was performed at the Wyndham’s Theatre in the West End and the Queen’s Theatre. It tied for first in the Variety Critics’ Poll for “Best New Play” Orton also came second for “Most Promising Playwright.” And was performed in New York, Spain, Israel and Australia, as well as being made into a film and a television play.

Orton’s next performed work was Loot. Originally entitled Funeral Games, it is a wild parody of detective fiction, adding farce and jabs at established ideas on death, the police, religion, and justice. Despite being heavily rewritten Loot subsequently opened to scathing reviews in Brighton, Oxford, Bournemouth, Manchester, and Wimbledon Discouraged, Orton and Halliwell went on an 80-day holiday in Tangier, Morocco. Loot was revived in 1966 and Orton edited The play raising the tempo and improving the characters’ interactions. Additional cuts further improved Loot and It premiered in London on 27 September 1966, to rave reviews, before moving to the Criterion Theatre before winning several awards and firmly establishing Orton’s fame sadly though Loot flopped on Broadway. Orton next wrote What the Butler Saw, revised The Ruffian on the Stair and The Erpingham Camp for the stage as a double called Crimes of Passion. He also wrote Funeral Games; and the screenplay “Up Against It” for the Beatles, worked on What the Butler Saw and wrote “The Good and Faithful Servant”, which was Orton’s take on The Bacchae, and was broadcast 1966 as the ‘pride’ segment in the series Seven Deadly Sins. Orton rewrote Funeral Games as a segment for the series, The Seven Deadly Virtues, Which dealt with charity—especially Christian charity—in a confusion of adultery and murder, which was broadcast by Yorkshire Television in 1968

Unfortunately During 1967 whilst Orton was working hard, energised and happy; Halliwell was becoming increasingly depressed, argumentative, and plagued with mystery ailments, culminating in 9 August 1967 with Orton’s brutal murder by Halliwell at his home in Noël Road, Islington, London, before Halliwell himself committed suicide with an overdose of 22 Nembutol tablets washed down with Grapefruit Juice. What The Butler Saw subsequently debuted posthumously in the West End in 1969 opening at the the Queen’s Theatre with Sir Ralph Richardson, Coral Browne, Stanley Baxter, and Hayward Morse to rave reviews.

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