Joe Orton: Life and Art

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Joe Orton: Life and Art

Post  eddie on Wed Apr 13, 2011 5:11 am

From the old ATU site:

http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:4NxUAn7fhCAJ:acrosstheuniverse.forumotion.com/t3324-joe-orton+site:acrosstheuniverse.forumotion.com+acrosstheuniverse+%2B+euripides&cd=4&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk&source=www.google.co.uk

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Re: Joe Orton: Life and Art

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 4:16 pm

^

Precautionary replication of the material above before the link to the old ATU cache expires:

**********************************************************************


John Lahr's biography of the gay and very socially subversive 1960's English playwright Joe Orton was adapted for the screen by Alan Bennett:


Film Poster for Prick Up Your Ears.

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Re: Joe Orton: Life and Art

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 4:19 pm

When Orton's brains were beaten out with a coal hammer in the tiny flat they shared in Noel Road, Islington by his lover Kenneth Halliwell, the latter's suicide note, written before he took a massive overdose, stated that the explanation for his action was to be found on his dead lover's diary:



Funny it certainly is; my eyes were starting out of my head at Orton's description of being fellated by a dwarf in a public lavatory beneath the Pentonville Road.

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Re: Joe Orton: Life and Art

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 4:22 pm

Orton and Halliwell met at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

They became lovers and started living together. Orton learned a great deal from the older and much better educated Halliwell (Orton himself came from a working-class council estate in Leicester).

Halliwell had aspirations as an artist, producing many collages of indifferent quality, but it was the two men's experiments with subversive photographic collage that landed them in jail when they started defacing library books with such artworks and replacing them secretly on the shelves of the local library.

Examples:





The tragedy of the relationship is that Orton eventually became the famous and respected artist Halliwell had always wanted to be. Sexual jealousy was not his only motive for murder; artistic jealousy also had a lot to do with it.

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Re: Joe Orton: Life and Art

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 4:23 pm

When he became established as a playwright with such plays as Entertaining Mr Sloane and Loot, Orton was commissioned by Paul McCartney to write the sceenplay for the next Beatles film (the scene features in the movie).

But, in the event, Orton's script- essentially a study in schizophrenia- proved to be too off-the-wall even for the Fabs.

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Re: Joe Orton: Life and Art

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 4:26 pm

Portraits of the Artist:


Orton by Lewis Morley, 1965.



Joe in the Noel Road flat, 1964. Note the cramped living conditions and Kenneth's collages on the wall behind the bed.


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Re: Joe Orton: Life and Art

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 4:28 pm

LaRue wrote:

I love Joe Orton! I've read Entertaining Mr Sloane and Loot. My friends at the local boy's school did a production of Loot in March. It was brilliant. Two of my very good friends played Truscott and Mcleavy. Their english teacher who directed it (and who I mistook for an upper sixth) is obsessed with Orton and did his masters on him and stuff. He's wicked cool.

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Re: Joe Orton: Life and Art

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 4:30 pm

Eddie wrote:

LaRue wrote:
Loot...Truscott


The late Kenneth Williams, a closet gay actor who featured in many of the British "Carry On" comedy movies was good friends with Orton and Halliwell.

Williams played the police detective Truscott in the disastrous first production of Loot. Disastrous, it has to be said, largely because of Williams' over-the-top performance.

Ex-con and gay man, Orton had good reasons for satirising the police. The problem was that the character of Truscott is supposed to gradually disintegrate into mania in the course of the plot, but Williams' trademark performance style was manic to start with....so he had nowhere to go with the role in the general trajectory of the script/performance.

Nonetheless, Williams' diaries are worth reading for an insight into the Orton-Halliwell relationship:




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Re: Joe Orton: Life and Art

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 4:31 pm

^
...and it's of more than passing interest to note that Williams himself exited this world in the Halliwell manner with a massive overdose of tablets. Although the Coronor diplomatically recorded an open verdict it seems pretty clear that Williams, who was facing abdominal surgery, had decided to take matters into his own hands.

When the police investigated Williams' death they found that his last few diary entries has been excised. An earlier reference to his storing up his "poison" (pain-killing medication) leaves little doubut that the overdose was intentional rather than accidental.

His diaries are a sad read; he wasn't a happy man- although he was found dead with a smile on his face.

'Acidic' or 'Waspish' accurately describe their general tone. He nastily refers at one point to his black neighbours as 'chimps' and he also becomes increasingly irritated with the attention paid by writers and journalists to his friends Orton and Halliwell after the sensational circumstances of their deaths.


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Re: Joe Orton: Life and Art

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 4:33 pm



I believe I saw this production in the mid-70's.

If it's the one I'm thinking of, Brian Glover played the policeman.

The final scene in which Glover, clad in a Leopard-skin dress (don't ask- too complicated, as all Farce plots are), leads the other battered and bleeding cast members up a ladder to the theatre flying gallery is an indication of just how much education Orton had absorbed from Halliwell.

The Leopard-skin dress references Euripides' The Bacchae (see 'The Bacchae- Euripides' thread in this section) and the demi-god Dionysus. Joe must have paid close attention to the volumes on Kenneth's book shelves.


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Re: Joe Orton: Life and Art

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 4:36 pm


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Re: Joe Orton: Life and Art

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 4:37 pm

Wiki plot summary of Entertaining Mr Sloane:

Mr Sloane, a young, beautiful and amoral con man, happens by the home of Kath, a middle-aged landlady who, clearly attracted to him, persuades him to become her lodger. Left alone with Sloane to entertain him, Kath's father Kemp, referred to as Dadda or 'the Dadda,' soon recognizes the young man as the murderer of Kemp's boss, who is still wanted by the police. Sloane engages in a cat-and-mouse game with Kemp over his identity. The situation becomes even more complex when Kath's over-bearing brother Ed appears. Kemp has refused to speak to Ed ever since he discovered him "committing some kind of felony in the bedroom" as a teenager. Kath assumes that Ed will not be pleased about Sloane staying, for fear of her forming a relationship with him, but it is clear from the beginning that Ed is also attracted to Sloane. Ed soon employs Sloane as his driver. Alone with Sloane at the climax of act one, Kath throws herself at him, declaring "I'll be your mamma", as she rolls on top of him and the lights go out.

At the climax of act two, Sloane kicks Kemp to death when he threatens to reveal his identity to the police. Ed is shocked when Sloane tries to persuade him to cover up the murder": "You murder my father. Now you ask me to help you evade Justice. Is that where my Liberal principles have brought me?" he asks. Sensing an opportunity, however, Ed tries to persuade Kath to collude in the deception, but when it becomes clear that this involves Sloane leaving to live with Ed, she refuses. Kath begs Sloane to stay, threatening him with the revelation that Kemp informed her of Sloane's previous crime, with which information she would go to the police. Sloane is caught between the conflicting and intractable desires of the brother and sister; "It's what is called a dilemma, boy", Ed explains, "you are on the horns of it." Sloane begs Ed to help resolve the situation:

SLOANE: I'll be grateful.
ED: Will you?
SLOANE: Eternally.
ED: Not eternally, boy. Just a few years.
He pats SLOANE on the shoulder.

Eventually Kath and Ed reach a compromise, agreeing to cover up Kemp's murder and to share Sloane between them, with each "entertaining Mr. Sloane" for six months at a time.



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Re: Joe Orton: Life and Art

Post  eddie on Thu Feb 16, 2012 5:06 am

John Lahr on Joe Orton: 'He'd only just found his voice when he was killed'

The man behind the only definitive account of Joe Orton's life and death talked to me about what inspired him to write it – and the motives behind the playwright's murder

Charlotte Higgins
The Guardian


Lost talent ... Joe Orton watching a rehearsal of his play Entertaining Mr Sloane at Wyndham's Theatre, London in 1964. Photograph: Central Press/Getty Images

Before I'd ever seen a Joe Orton play I'd read Prick Up Your Ears, John Lahr's masterful biography of the playwright. Lahr was back on Orton's north London stamping ground last week, discussing the playwright with psychoanalyst Don Campbell at Islington Museum. The museum currently has an unmissable exhibition of the library books defaced by Orton and his boyfriend Kenneth Halliwell. One of my favourites is a book about John Betjeman by Derek Stanford and Neville Spearman, on whose jacket has been pasted a picture of a heavily tattooed old man standing in his underpants.

Lahr and Halliwell got six months in jail for their crimes, a heavy sentence even in 1962. The experience was the making of Orton, who wrote his first hit play Entertaining Mr Sloane the following year, but it nearly broke Halliwell. Over the next five years Halliwell found himself left behind by Orton, whose career was rocketing, and in August 1967, Halliwell beat Orton's brains out with a hammer in the flat they shared, before taking an overdose.

The pair's last eight months is chronicled in Orton's diary, edited by Lahr. "I think they're the best diary of the period – wonderfully written," Lahr told me over the phone the week before the talk. "A large portion of English diaries are by the ruling classes. This is, to a certain extent, the diary of an ordinary contemporary Englishman in the 60s." Albeit, it has to be said, an Englishman admired by both Tennessee Williams and Paul McCartney, and who wrote jaw-dropping accounts of his gay sexual exploits in public toilets off London's Holloway Road.

Now the New Yorker's senior drama critic, a post he has held since 1992, Lahr was drama editor of the Grove press, which published Orton's plays, when he first read the playwright's diary. "I read one sentence and I knew that I wanted to write a biography of him. The sentence was, 'Much more fucking and they'll be screaming hysterics in next to no time.' Revenge is the motive for great comedy. That wish to drive a public crazy is a very ancient Dionysian impulse. I recognised that as the sign of a true comic, so that's why I went for it."

It's a testament to Lahr's research that very little new information has come to light since Prick Up Your Ears was published in 1978: his remains the definitive account of Orton's life and death. As Lahr proudly pointed out to me, it's still in print, and cemented Orton's reputation as a great playwright, which had taken a drubbing in the immediate aftermath of his death. "Most criticism comes after the fact – in this case I could make an audience for Orton to a certain degree. He was a great stylist, but he didn't live to teach directors and actors how to do his plays like Coward or Pinter or Shaw, so the book had the opportunity to do that." Not only that, Prick Up Your Ears went on to be turned into a play and a film, the latter scripted by Alan Bennett and starring Gary Oldman as Orton.

Having read the diaries, I had always been puzzled by Kenneth Halliwell's suicide note, which read: "If you read his diary, all will be explained. KH PS: Especially the latter part." To me they don't explain such a violent reaction, but Lahr disagreed. "It seems to me straightforward envy, and the psychology of envy is very hate-filled," he suggested.

Halliwell, he went on, was also an aspiring writer – and later collagist – but "when he wrote, he didn't have the juice. Orton had found a new confidence and outgrown Halliwell and wanted freedom. Have you ever lived in a symbiotic relationship? It's like a barnacle on your hull – he couldn't shed him."

Lahr was astonished when I asked whether Orton needed Halliwell; whether, in fact, the claustrophobia fed his writing. "No, the other way around," he said. "Orton had a whole life and gift apart from Halliwell, which is what Halliwell couldn't stand. That's why he killed him."

Lahr believes that Orton would have gone from strength to strength if he'd lived. "The diaries, What the Butler Saw and the two TV plays [The Erpingham Camp and Funeral Games] were all rewritten in the last eight months of his life. That's one of the many tragedies – that he'd only just found his voice when he was killed."

Such a savage satirist, whose mocking tone and, Lahr says, "refusal to suffer" made an indelible mark on theatre history, would have had a lot of fun tearing into our own age of fear, financial catastrophe, religious fundamentalism and terrorism. "My mind just focuses on the line [from Funeral Games] 'All classes are criminal. We live in an age of equality,'" Lahr said. "That's what he would have made of it."

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