Monday, May 14, 2018

Joe Orton

Joe Orton, 'the scandalous playwright...'

Joe Orton

Joe Orton, originally named John Kingsley Orton, was born on 1 January, 1933 in Leicester, England, and died, in London, on 9 August, 1967. Joe’s career started as an unsuccessful actor and then he became an author and playwright specialisingin black comedies. A new term, ‘Ortonesque’, was created following his work. His career, just like his life, was short but prolific, lasting from 1964 until his death three years later.

Kenneth Halliwell

    Academically, Joe did not do well at school and failed the eleven-plus exam. Afterwards he started studying on a secretarial course at Clark’s College. This then gave him the opportunity to start working as a junior clerk for three pounds a week. In 1949, Orton joined a number of dramatic societies and was able to perform in theatre. In 1950, he applied for a grant at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and entered it. In 1951, he met for the first time Kenneth Halliwell, who later became his lover. 

Halliwell had a lot of importance in Orton’s life and aided his development as an author. Despite his troubled childhood, Halliwell was well-educated. He was everything that Orton was not, and there was therefore an imbalance in their relationship. Halliwell loved the fact that Orton looked up to him, but things changed when Orton achieved increasing success, Halliwell, whose career was not really taking off, felt threatened by Orton. On 9 August 1967, Halliwell beat Orton to death with nine hammer blows to his head. After the murder, he killed himself with an overdose of medicine. The dead bodies were discovered the next morning. 


    From 1959 to 1962, Orton and Halliwell stole some books from local public libraries and modified the cover before turning them back to the libraries. They were arrested in 1962 and spent six months in jail. Orton explained that the isolation from Halliwell was beneficial to his creativity. The lovers thought the sentence was very harsh because of their homosexuality.

Video: excerpt video from an interview

    Halliwell and him wrote some novels together, but none of them was published during their life. Among these, they wrote 'Lord Cucumber', 'The Boy Hairdresser' and, 'The Last Days of Sodom'. Orton wrote several other novels on his own such as 'Between Us Girls' and 'Head to Toe'. 
He also wrote plays such as 'The Ruffians on the Stair', a radio play broadcast by the BBC, and 'Funeral Games & The Good and Faithful Servant',which are all one-act plays, and 'Entertaining Mister Sloane', 'What the Butler saw' and 'Loot', which are black comedies. 

    'Loot' won the Evening Standard’s Best Play award. This play is a wild detective fiction parody in which society is criticized through a satire of the Catholic Church, of the social attitude to death and of the alleged integrity of the police.

1666 Drama Awards Evening Standard 

    Through his plays, Joe Orton revealed his own view of society and also campaigned for changing opinions and pre-conceptions about homosexuality. Despite his dramatic death, he remains revered as a talented playwright and an icon of the 1960s. 

Vanina Bar, Margaux Massart


-       ARTFUNDUK. Art Happens: Discover Joe Orton, the man behind the drama[online video]. YouTube, 09/05/2017 [last consultation 07/03/2018]. 1 video, 02:05.

-       THEORTONCOLLECTIVE.Joe Orton Television Interview 1967[online video]. YouTube, 05/03/2012 [last consultation 07/03/2018]. 1 video, 02:00. 

-       Joe Orton. In Alison Forsythe. Welcome to Joe Orton online [online, last consultation 07/03/2018]

-       BBC. In BBC News. The subversive genius of Joe Orton, Liam Barnes, 09/08/2017 [online, last consultation 07/03/2018]

-       KAHANE, Eric. Le Butin, Jeux Funèbres. Avant Scène, 1981. 50 p. Théâtre Poche-Montparnasse. ISBN 978-2749801711

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