Joe Orton: A Portrait of a Modern British Playwright

This week, as Editor-in-Chief of the Re-Read Club’s post, I have turned my attention to John Kingsley Orton.

A brand new copy of Orton – Complete Plays sits on the kitchen table and I can’t wait to get started.  The obvious companion to this collection are his diaries, but I fear these still reside, inaccessibly, in a packing crate in the loft, so another copy will need to be acquired.

A quick trip around the internet will enable the casual reader to assimilate the key events in Joe’s short life. Boredom growing up in the suburban Midlands, RADA, Kenneth Halliwall, the acquistion of a classical education and then the fun really starts. Prison following a sustained ‘attack’ on library books, countless homosexual encounters and finally, playwriting success. There’s much more besides this, but I’d hate to give it away.

Don’t want the background information, but would like to get a flavour of the man? Try the photographic portaits taken by Lewis Morley, in 1965. Morley was responsible for the well known picture of Christine Keeler and in one of the portraits of Joe, Morley gets him to repeat the pose, naked, using the same chair. It’s a fascinating picture. The first thing that strikes the observer is the absolute directness of the sitter. This is a portrait of someone who is totally at ease with themselves, confidant, not doubting. However, knowing Joe, there’s almost certainly more to this picture, than meets the eye.

So, what are the plays? A good laugh? A comment on the Britain of the 1960’s? Certainly they are a product of their time, and yes, they are funny, but this is just the obvious. Wit, pared down until it’s like a stiletto and used as a weapon. Language, polished and refined until it sparkles. Institutions deconstructed and respectability, always assumed to be a cover story for something more disturbing and unexpected.

Hopefully, Mrs. Edna Welthorpe likes this post. But I bet she doesn’t.

Want to find out More?
Orton – Complete Plays. Published by Methuen with an introduction by John Lahr
Lewis Morley pictures at the National Portrait Gallery:
The Orton Diaries. Edited by John Lahr. [Re-Read Club Editor’s Note. These are fascinating, but be prepared for things which may shock. Orton had many reasons for writing them as he did.]


About Dystonia Girl

Horse rider who loves to blog and do lots of other things too. Lives with, but is not defined by, a rare neurological condition called Dystonia.
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