Joe Orton “ When I read The Orton Diaries, I was fascinated by the dynamic between Orton and Halliwell. The tortured couple scenario: hanging on to each other for dear life during the lean years, hurt and resentful when that mutual coddling isn't necessary for survival anymore. And, reading it, I really felt for Halliwell; I thought Orton was a real prick for how he treated Halliwell in his "diary" that he obviously intended would be made public at some point in his career. Orton situated himself as Halliwell's muse for as long as he needed an audience, and once he had the Evening Standard award and all the standing ovations he wanted he just discarded Halliwell. And Halliwell's reaction was the classic 'if I can't have you, no one will.'

Andrew Gallix interviews Travis Mader author of “Cut” published in November by 3AM Magazine


3AM: Could you tell us a little about your background and how you came to write in the first place?

TM: Well, here are some factual items: I'm from the city of Galveston, an island just off the coast of Texas. I turn 30 on Thanksgiving. I originally wanted to be a concert flutist, but my junior year in high school I switched from band to theatre because theatre kids are cooler. I started writing plays and a couple of them won contests when I got to college, so I decided to pursue playwriting more seriously by moving to Houston, TX to study with Edward Albee who teaches at the University of Houston. Now I'm the resident dramaturg at the Alley Theatre, which means I do all the background research for all our productions and get to work with playwrights on new plays. Up until recently, I was a member of a performance collective called QuAC, the Queer Artist Collective, where I really started to refine my prose by writing monologues.
3AM: What form of writing do you prefer: playwriting, performance text or fiction?

TM: As far as what I like to read, I have to say fiction. I don't have a particularly visual imagination, so I don't like to read plays all that much. When it comes to writing, my preference varies. It's a hard call since they each do very different things. I guess I've always been interested in the idea of audience—who's reading this (or watching this) and why? Which goes back to what I like/don't like to read. A book is an intimate conversation between an author and a reader. A play is a series of intimate conversations—between some actors and an audience. A playwright writes a verbal blueprint for actors, directors and audiences and, ideally, removes his or herself from the equation. A novelist has a direct connection with the reader—no middleman. For that reason I guess writing fiction is (currently) more satisfying for me. Does that make any sense?
3AM: How did you get to work with people like Edward Albee?

TM: When I was a freshman in college in Fort Worth, Texas, I heard that Mr. Albee taught a playwriting course at the University of Houston. So I transferred there to take his class. What they didn't tell me at the time was that you had to be personally selected by the playwright to be in the class, so it took me a couple of tries to get in. He actually teaches two courses: an introduction to playwriting course (about 15 students) and a playwriting workshop (5 students). I took both, which culminated in a production of my play Self-Portrait in Black & White at the university. Since I've become the Alley Theatre dramaturg, I've had the opportunity to watch him direct several of his own plays, including The Zoo Story, The American Dream and his latest The Play About the Baby, which is about to open in New York. He hates dramaturgs, so he's told me, but he endures my presence for the most part.
3AM: When did you write "Cut"? Where did the inspiration come from? Why is it set in 1992?

TM: When I was a freshman in college in Fort Worth, Texas, I wrote "Cut" in 1992, the year that it takes place. It's actually one of the first prose pieces I ever wrote. It was around the time that the Jeffrey Dahmer [infamous gay American serial killer] story came out. I was reading a lot of Dennis Cooper [“Cooper is kind of a gay slasher novelist. He's big on serial killer stuff, intergenerational relationships, more of the dark underbelly of queer culture in the sanitized morass of gay fiction. His most famous book is Frisk, which was made into a film with Parker Posey in the mid-90s. Not a very good film. I like Cooper's courage and his nihilism, especially when talking about disaffected youth”] and William Burroughs and J.G. Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition and [Bret Easton Ellis’s] American Psycho, and I was interested in violence in literature. The term "transgressive fiction" was being tossed around, and I liked the idea of writing something that was graphic and explicit and unsafe—but something that was earnest too. I also really liked the idea of playing with the form of the story, J.G. Ballard really inspired me with his use of different types of information (footnotes, indeces, etc) in his fiction. Someone had also given me a copy of the Dahmer police report (whether it's real or not, who knows), and the type of information in that document interested me as well. And I kept thinking, if Dahmer had kept a diary, what would we learn about him? All these things came together and I wrote the story out in straight narrative a couple of times, took a pair of scissors to each paragraph, shuffled them and reconstructed the story.
3AM: The serial killer JD identifies with Kenneth Halliwell, Joe Orton's lover and murderer. Do you have a particular interest in Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell?

TM: When I read The Orton Diaries, I was fascinated by the dynamic between Orton and Halliwell. The tortured couple scenario: hanging on to each other for dear life during the lean years, hurt and resentful when that mutual coddling isn't necessary for survival anymore. And, reading it, I really felt for Halliwell; I thought Orton was a real prick for how he treated Halliwell in his "diary" that he obviously intended would be made public at some point in his career. Orton situated himself as Halliwell's muse for as long as he needed an audience, and once he had the Evening Standard award and all the standing ovations he wanted he just discarded Halliwell. And Halliwell's reaction was the classic 'if I can't have you, no one will.'
3AM: As a playwright, are you influenced by Joe Orton's plays?

TM: Well, I love his brazen resistance to the cultural rules of uptight Great Britain. It seems fitting that the current bad-girl of cinema Chloe Sevigny is currently in an off-Broadway production of What the Butler Saw. I think my favorite play of his is Entertaining Mr. Sloane. A bit of Orton in the vain and manipulating Sloane I suspect.
3AM: Apart from the fact that JD and Kenneth Halliwell are both murderers and failed writers, there are also other elements in "Cut" which conjure up Halliwell: the Nembutal and the cut-ups (Halliwell's collages). Is this deliberate or merely coincidental?

TM: The Nembutal reference was pretty intentional. This is macabre, but when I got to the end of the Diaries and read how Halliwell proceeded to kill himself after staving in Orton's head with a hammer, I have to say I was disappointed. But there was also something touching about Halliwell's pitiful pharmaceutical suicide, which is why I gave his prescriptions to JD in "Cut." I had forgotten about the collages Halliwell and Orton did, particularly the defacing of library books for which they served time . . . Honestly, I was probably more influenced by William Burroughs and Brion Gysin and their their cut-up experiments.
3AM: One of the many things I like about "Cut" is that you renew the theme of writing as a criminal activity. Could you talk to us about that?

TM: Writing is telling. JD's story is as valid as anyone else's: it's what he does that is criminal. Jean Genet was a thief who transformed his crimes into beautiful prose—and his first volumes had to be passed around in secret. Burroughs was tried for obscenity for writing Naked Lunch. Dennis Cooper's life was threatened by Queer Nation for writing Frisk. All this attention because the powers that be are afraid of the power of words. Burroughs was right: words are a virus. The authorities know it and we know it; so telling the truth, really infecting readers with ideas that don't mesh with our current social framework is threatening. It's also transforming. As a writer, you have to be prepared for threatened parties to come after you, so tell the truth as loud and for as long as you can.
3AM: What are you currently working on?

TM: Like everyone else, I'm working on a novel. Musing over the idea of writing a play. Itching to do something in the community. Being lazy, mostly. Go to: http://freeweb.pdq.net/quac/syncope.htm < http://freeweb.pdq.net/quac/syncope.htm >


I asked Bill Kelly, whom we interviewed last month, to elucidate a few points for our readers. Bill is a community psychiatric nurse, a writer and the founder of the now-defunct Joe Orton Society. On the subject of Baron Fabvier, he said: “I am unsure if Baron Fabvier is still alive. Last time I was in Tangier in 1994 I called and his houseboy told me he was in France. Unfortunately his English was as poor as my French so I could not ascertain what was wrong but it appeared he was ill.” Bill went to Tangier twice. The first time as a sort of Orton pilgrimage. The second time was “on an invite from Paul Bowles” whom he did not get to see “as he had gone to the USA due to illness.” Over there, he “had many conversations with ex pats who knew Joe and Ken and some who said that they did, but obviously did not. This is the difficulty. It is like where I live now, everyone over a certain age claims to have known the Beatles!”

How did Bill meet the Baron? “I originally wrote to 'The Occupier' at the flat, thinking the Baron was long dead. I was amazed he was not! He had the Fatima serve me with Port and some sort of salami meat whilst I was sitting on the fabled leopard skin couch which of course is downstairs in his apartment now, as is all the furniture that Joe used except for the terrace furniture.”

It was on his first visit that he met Baron Fabvier: “I did meet the Baron, that was October, 1993, but he was not there the last time. He was a very charming man living in the flat below the one Joe and Ken had. He owns them both, it was originally one house. Unfortunately he did not remember very much about them being there, but he had some really good memories of Tennessee Williams who of course wrote Suddenly Last Summer in the same apartment.”

Did Orton and Tennessee Williams ever meet? “I don’t think there was any connection between Joe and Tennessee Williams, I belive the actor and friend of Joe, Kenneth Williams had the flat in 1966 and he passed on the details to Joe and Ken.”

The flat Joe had was (in 1993) occupied by a rather mysterious Englishman of very good stock [Robin Bulmer] who was very cautious about revealing his past. I gave him one of my plays, Strawberry Cottage, to read and he read the script in his bedroom which was once Joe's. Incidentally, he told me that a few months before my visit the doorbell rang and a Moroccan man stood there with his wife and children. The man was none other than Mohammed Yellow-jersey of Diary fame [he first appears in the Diaries on page 185] who now lives in Manchester in England. He had returned for a visit and brought his family!”

I asked Bill how Robin Bulmer could have know it was Mohammed Yellow-jersey: “ I had my own doubts about the Yellow-jacket fellow, but the tenant of the flat swears it happened. I cannot confirm it. I believe he only stayed a few minutes. I don’t know what he was doing in Manchester—he would be only an hour’s drive from where I live. The tenant of the flat, Robin Bulmer, did not know Joe as he only came to Tangier in 1972, but he did know Kenneth Williams and George Greeves who is mentioned in the Diaries [he was Reuters’ Morocco correspondent; died in 1984] and a lot of other Tangier expats. He was quite an odd and secretive person who wrote to me once after I left and then ignored further letters. Oddly, I was the first person who had visited the flat since he had acquired it in the 1970s, but then going to Tangier is different to going to London.”

On the subject of Gordon Hunt, a member of the Orton Society who had known the playwright, Bill tells us: “Gordon Hunt was known, he wrote a lot about mystic things and was a white witch.”

I also asked Bill when the Orton Society disbanded: “The society folded two years ago. We had started to get a lot of very odd members who began to pester Sue [Townsend] because of her fame and some even approached Leonie [Orton-Barnett] saying they were acting on our behalf, which was not true as we originally agreed to respect the privacy of the Orton family.”

Gary Burrell got in touch with us recently. He doesn’t buy Bill Kelly’s conspiracy theory: “What do you think,” he asks me, “about the missing pages from the diary 'conspiracy'? I'm not so sure. After all, Joe Orton was hardly JFK. Yes, Joe Orton could have been seeing someone well known, but there is nothing in the diary up to 8 days before he was killed, and a couple of those days he was in Leicester, leaving little time left. He was candid about everything else, why not that? Even if he met someone right at the end of his life does it seem possible that he did not tell anyone. After 33 years nobody has blabbed. Also, if it’s a theory as to why Kenneth Halliwell finally snapped, what could have posed such a threat in a week? Even if it was the first time Joe Orton had seen someone regularly, or seriously, it was still a matter of days. Joe Orton and others noticed Kenneth Halliwell deteriorating towards the end of the diary period, presumably before Joe Orton met the celebrity. Kenneth Halliwell's “latter part” [in the suicide note] is ambiguous. It’s assumed to refer to the last week because it’s not in the diary, but he could have meant from June/July for instance. There is no suggestion that I know of that Joe Orton wrote up his diary regularly a day or two at a time, or even put the typed pages in the diary immediately. Perhaps the pages were elsewhere (a long shot I know), or perhaps he had a backlog of writing, including his trip to Leicester (more likely).” Tell us what you think.

Initially, Gary had written to us about the film Prick Up Your Ears. He believes that the version available on video tape in Britain has been cut: “I seem to remember at least two scenes in the film that are not in it now. Firstly, the two actors are in the flat talking about how gays have sex in toilets so associate enjoyment with the smell of piss (as is the dialogue in the diaries), and secondly, again in the flat, they talk about the saying 'prick up your ears'. Interestingly, the early reviews of the film say the title is explained in the context of the film, but it’s not now. The running time of the film was also 112 minutes on release, whereas it is stated as 105 minutes now. Spooky!” If you have any information on this topic, please contact us.

Gary also describes Simon Sheperd’s book on Orton, Because We’re Queers: The Life and Crimes of Kenneth Halliwell and Joe Orton (see bibliography below) as “an eye-opener”: “The Simon Shepard book was a surprise because of the whole Orton Industry thing, and his inference of Peggy Ramsay and John Lahr’s complicity. I do agree however that John Lahr’s footnotes in the diaries are misleading.”

We asked Gary why he was interested in Joe Orton: “There are a number of reasons really. It’s a good story of a poor guy making good. His relationship with Kenneth Halliwell is compelling, but I think has been misrepresented. For instance, Alan Bennett has Joe telling Kenneth he wants to split up just before the murder, but a number of people remarked how loyal Joe was to Ken, Joe said he would never leave him, would not "forsake" him. On a machiavellian level, Joe needed him as a critic, he was still using Kenneth’s suggestions for What the Butler Saw, (not that I think Joe stayed with him just for this). Kenneth was losing Joe in more fundamental ways, which is maybe worse, but I have a gut feeling the murder was more simplistic. Just wish we had more clues. Joe was a character. Disregarding the movie, which I try to do, he comes across from his diary as someone I would have liked to have been around. Even though I find the diary somehow impersonal, selective, and infuriatingly vague regarding Kenneth, enough of Joe comes through to keep me liking him. Don't you wish that John Lahr had made a better job of fleshing Joe and Kenneth out? Seems like a good opportunity missed. Also, with what I would like to think was a minor reason for my interest, but who am I kidding, Joe was so bloody good-looking.”

You can contact Gary at the following address: supernova@cwcom.net


This is where we archive articles about Joe Orton. On 19 September 1998, Joe Orton’s sister, Leonie Orton-Barnett was interviewed by Claire Scobie in Britain’s The Sunday Telegraph. The title of the article was “What the Sister Saw”:

Joe Orton's weird upbringing inspired some of the blackest comedy ever written, including three hitherto unpublished early works. His sister Leonie tells Claire Scobie what life with the Ortons was like.

"Our mother was a cow. Mothers of writers are often strong characters, like Wilde's mother," says Leonie Orton-Barnett, sister of Joe Orton. We are walking along an outer ring-road of Leicester to the Toby Carvery for an eat-as-much-roast-as-you-like lunch - her choice, as it's near where she lives.

Since Joe Orton's death in 1967—he was murdered by his mentor and lover Kenneth Halliwell, who then committed suicide—all his papers and unpublished manuscripts have gathered dust in Leonie's attic. For the first time some of his first work, a novel, Between Us Girls and two plays, Fred and Madge and The Visitors, are to be published. Why now? She becomes a little tetchy. "Well, I had my own life. I wasn't just Joe Orton's sister or a wife. I love gardening, I have the dogs to look after."

John Lahr, who wrote Orton's acclaimed biography Prick Up Your Ears, had dismissed Orton's earlier writings. "I feel rather foolish," says publisher Nick Hern. "We had written them off and taken the Lahr line that they were juvenilia." Hern, who has known Leonie for over a decade, adds, "It's a bit cheeky to say so, but when we decided to publish she was getting a divorce, so there is also the monetary value. She's discovering herself rather late in life."

In the Carvery, Leonie seemed nervous at first. She drained half a pint of bitter and then the flood-gates lifted—generations of anger and the grim life of the Orton household flowed, and with the torrent came her own frustrations and loveless marriage. Blunt, witty and increasingly outrageous as the day progressed, Leonie Orton-Barnett is a woman unleashed.

Joe was 11 years her senior, Leonie's idol. "I was dim—not in the sense of unintelligent—but all the lights were turned out." Now having done O- and A-levels and Open University courses, she is a mixture of pub philosopher, street-wise lit. crit. and woman on the edge.

She was the only family member to write to Orton when he left home. Rolling her eyes skyward like a little sister does, even though she is now 55, she cringes: "Those letters I wrote to him are absolutely abysmal, spelling was just dreadful, but they belong to the collection." They are now in Leicester University. The Orton estate sold his entire works last January [1998] for £60,000.

Joe Orton left nothing to his family but everything to Kenneth, and Kenneth did the same for Joe. So if there is ever an irony that Joe would smirk at today it is how well they did when he died. "Joe died after Kenneth," says Leonie. (Despite his injuries Orton was still alive when Halliwell died from an overdose.) "We not only got all his money, but all Kenneth's money too. So in a way, his death helped me out. I could stop working in the factory with the £3,000 I got then."

Just before we met, Leonie, her elder brother Douglas, 61, a plumber, and her 59-year-old sister, Marilyn, a cutter (in hosiery), had gone to the hilariously camp production of Loot at the Vaudeville Theatre in London. This outing was something of a landmark: "We were a dysfunctional family . . . If our mother wasn't at work— in hosiery—she was down the pub. Then when she came home, she'd belt the shit out of us for some reason."

Didn't this bring you together? "No, odd that, we splintered. We were very insular and didn't like one another much. I was very jealous of my sister. Douglas was never in. It seemed Joe was the most favoured out of all of us."

John Kingsley Orton, as he was christened, seemed to know from an early age that he was destined for something more than the grey horizons of a Leicester working-class estate. Their mother, Elsie, pawned her wedding ring to pay for her favourite son's secondary education. When other kids were playing street games, Joe, an asthmatic, could be found curled up on the sofa with a book borrowed from the local library. He was different.

"He painted his bedroom with hieroglyphics and Chinese letters," and once, laughs Leonie, "he put on a play in the back garden. Marilyn and I were fairies, Douglas was a bear. He charged people a penny to watch."

Their domineering mother had aspirations which their put-upon father, William, a gardener, could not fulfil. "My father would have his dinner on a tea-plate. She called him Creeping Jesus and hated him because he didn't earn any money," says Leonie. "When he brought home £9 wages, she'd say, 'What am I supposed to do with that? It's neither arse-hole nor watercress.' You know she was so funny, putting those two images together . . . But it was cruel, she was always poking fun at other people." Leonie adds dryly, "Since Mother died nobody has put flowers on the grave, which speaks volumes, doesn't it?"

None of the family knew Orton was gay until after he died, but Leonie wasn't surprised. "One of the reasons Joe preferred men to women was because of this harridan of a mother we had." Leonie learned about his exploits in lavatories from the Orton Diaries, "I wasn't really shocked by his accounts—a bit by the one with the dwarf, but like all writers I think he probably exaggerated."

Yet without Elsie's cruel tongue Orton would probably never have learned to write such successful comedies. "Joe had a detached and funny way of looking at things which I think he got from my mother," says Leonie. He mined his upbringing for later work. Elsie would later appear thinly disguised as the bullying Kath in Entertaining Mr Sloane; William was cast as the cowering Hal [the author means McLeavy] in Loot.

As a way of escaping the mind-numbing humdrum of daily existence, Orton immersed himself in theatre during his late teens, joining local amateur dramatic clubs, then starting elocution lessons. In 1951 he won a scholarship for RADA. "Mother told everyone in the street that she was going to have an actor son," says Leonie. Orton would return home for two weeks every year. "I remember him changing," she says, "he started speaking differently. He'd kiss you, be affectionate. But he still had this detachment. He'd do all sorts of outrageous things; like when the tally-men came for payment, Mother would give all these hard-luck stories. Joe would hide a microphone in the serving hatch and tape my mum. Then he'd play them back and howl with laughter."

But it was only when Orton met Kenneth Halliwell that, as Leonie puts it, "this inarticulate young man became articulate." Orton found Gibbons, Shakespeare, fine art, and his muse. At first they wrote together, but everything was rejected. In 1957 Orton struck out on his own, severing the literary cord with Halliwell with the diary novel, Between Us Girls. It is the work from this period that Leonie is making available for the first time.

He is a playwright, not a novelist, so the book falters. It is about an aspiring actress, Susan Hope, who is duped into the white-slave trade in Mexico, before winding up in Hollywood. John Lahr described it as Orton's "first exercise in literary ventriloquism: speaking and yet not seeming to speak." The experiment doesn't always work. Susan Hope often sounds more like a camp young man, i.e. Orton. There are some Ortonesque gems, however, such as when Hope sees Evelyn Eliot at the station on their way to Mexico, who shines "with vulgarity; she had the glamour of a film-star and the accent of a crow."

The plays Fred and Madge and The Visitors, written between 1959 and 1961, illuminate Orton's iconoclastic view of life. For him nothing was sacred; at a time when the local bobby was still respected, his policemen are corrupt, weasel-like characters. Influenced by Beckett, the plays are surreal but very funny—an attack on lower-middle-class values and the obsession with work as a virtue. Doing their bit for the world, Fred rolls a stone up a plank of wood every day and Madge sieves water. Then they rebel and emigrate to an Indian fantasy-land with "swaying palms and the camels and the seductive dances of the Murri-murri". The Visitors is a loose sequel, set in a hospital with cold-hearted, indifferent nurses. It mocks the false sentimentality of death.

As Orton launched out on his own, the cracks in his relationship with Halliwell were beginning to show. Leonie met Halliwell twice. "When I went to see Loot in 1966, I went to their flat. The walls were covered with religious pictures—Michelangelo, the Crucification [sic] of Jesus—all images of death. I thought Kenneth was very odd. He brought out a Battenburg cake and then sat on the edge of his seat, shaking his head from side to side. I now realise he was very ill. He was desperate, crying out for help."

Orton had learned from his own fractured family life to deny the truth of what was happening around him. As he became the West End's most feted playwright, fraternising with the young Beatles, his life the stuff of the gossip columns, Halliwell became a manic depressive. Less than a year after Leonie met Halliwell, he would murder Orton, no longer able to cope with his lover's success.

Watching Leonie at home, I had glimpses of how the real and surreal blur. We were greeted by her 29-year-old daughter, Rachel, sitting on the patio cutting bananas out of yellow tiles for a pool-pond sculpture, blue lizards and jungle as the background. "It's to be like a Rousseau painting," says Leonie, who bustled around, finding Orton's original Sgt Pepper album, his old typewriter and much-loved grey fake-fur jacket which had been the dog's blanket for years (Leonie had rescued it from elder brother Douglas). With the jacket round her shoulders, she began reading out excerpts of Fred and Madge from the kitchen table crying with laughter. It all seemed curiously apt, an accolade to her "actor-brother" who once said, "You can't be a rationalist in an irrational world. It isn't rational."


This is where we consider Joe Orton through other people’s works.

I recently discovered a poem by Ira Cohen entitled “From The Moroccan Journal” (1987) that includes the line: “ Is that Kenneth Halliwell looking for Joe Orton?” I will try to find out more about it. You can read the entire poem online at the following address: Go to: http://www.thing.net/~grist/ld/i-cohen.htm < http://www.thing.net/~grist/ld/i-cohen.htm > You can find out more about Ira Cohen’s work here: Go to: http://www.bigbridge.org/ira.htm < http://www.bigbridge.org/ira.htm >


Chloe SevignyThe New Group in New York is staging a new production of What the Butler Saw, directed by Scott Elliott, with cult actress Chloë Sevigny playing the part of Geraldine Barclay (presumably). The first preview took place on October 31. Opening night was on November 12. The play runs until December 10. Performances are at 8 pm Tues-Sat, 2 pm on Saturdays and 3 pm on Sundays. Performances take place at St Clement’s Church, 423 W. 46th Street (9/10th Ave.). This is what broadway.com has to say about it: “Chloe Sevigny, the Oscar-nominated actress of Boys Don’t Cry, will star in Scott Elliott’s production of Joe Orton’s What The Butler Saw. The classic sex farce will play a six-week engagement at the The New Group Theater at St. Clement’s Church beginning October 31. Opening night is set for November 12. What The Butler Saw is the story of Dr. and Mrs. Prentice, who spend as much energy hiding their affairs as they do pursuing them. In addition to doing the occasional classic sex farce, the New Group is a non-profit organization that produces new plays by emerging writers and offers support for work in all stages of development. The New Group’s Founding Director Scott Elliott, who is known for both his stage work (Broadway: Present Laughter, Three Sisters, off-Broadway: East is East, Goose Pimples) and his film work (A Map of the World) will direct Dylan Baker as Dr. Prentice, Lisa Emery as Mrs. Prentice and Sevigny as Miss Barclay. Before she was Hollywood royalty, Sevigny was best known for gritty work in art house faves like Kids and The Last Days of Disco.” And here is The Village Voice’s review: “Joe Orton worked in the same tradition as Ayckbourn, much the way a dynamiter works the same mine as a shoveler. Orton was out to inject modernism's insanity into the nightmare erotics of farce, a task at which he might have succeeded more subtly if he'd lived. What the Butler Saw, his last play, is full of imperishably witty lines but a complete hell to put onstage. The writing's half Oscar Wilde and half Feydeau; either the epigrams block the action or it tramples them underfoot. And the farce has its own internal problems, including a carefree acknowledgment of sexuality that makes all its furtiveness absurd in the wrong sense. Scott Elliott's production for the New Group takes the bravest but least practical way out of this impasse: treating the piece as a work of wit, he slows it down, until the final bedlam, with chilling gravity. True, the witticisms are all audible, but the characters, with few exceptions, are reduced to monochrome, while the laughs vanish in the antiseptic air. For a final blow, Elliott has Peter Frechette's oleaginous Dr. Rance deliver his demonized interpretation of the goings-on, not to the person onstage with him, but into a tape recorder, at one stroke removing from the demented speech both Rance's delight in it and its dramatic effect. The moment's especially annoying because the other person onstage is the splendid Lisa Emery, who comes closer than any actress I've seen to making sense of Mrs. Prentice: self-righteous, embittered, bisexual nymphomaniacs traumatized by rape aren't easy to play. Especially with all those damn epigrams. The other strong performance, in a much less demanding role, is Max Baker's Sergeant Match.” Go to: http://www.newgrouptheater.com Go to: http://www.chloesevigny.com/ Go to: http://www.broadway.com Go to: http://www.villagevoice.com

In September 2000, Oh Happy Day, written by Monty Python star Graham Chapman and Barry Cryer, received its world premiere at a small Atlanta theatre 11 years after the author’s death. The play was discovered a few years ago by Chapman’s partner, the aptly-named David Sherlock. Jim Yoakum, one of Chapman’s writing partners who is now the director of the Graham Chapman Archives, chose to stage the play in Atlanta rather than London or New York for financial reasons and because he’d seen the improvisation company, Dad’s Garage Theatre, perform Joe Orton’s What the Butler Saw. On the company’s website, the play is described as “a classic British farce in the tradition of the late Joe Orton.” Jim Yoakum explains that "Graham was a big fan of Orton's. And oddly enough, both Joe and Graham came from Leicester, England, although they didn't know each other.” He says that if Dad’s Garage Theatre “could tackle Orton, I knew they could do Oh Happy Day justice.” Jim Yoakum posted a message on Catharton’s Joe Orton Community moderated by yours truly: “I've recently had the pleasure to produce the world premiere of a newly-discovered play by the late Graham Chapman (Monty Python) called Oh Happy Day. Although Oh Happy Day is much lighter than anything Joe Orton wrote, I discovered there are many shared points of view and social comments by the two great humorists, including the introduction of sensitive gay themes, the influence (and even the mere point) of families, and a general disregard for conventional society. I know Graham was a fan of Joe's, and oddly enough, both men hail from Leicester, UK. I hope to stage the play again, on a bigger canvas, one day and/or publish the book. I think the Chapman/Orton connection offers rich ground for exploration.” You can find the link to Jim Yoakum’s Graham Chapman Archives below. Go to: http://www.dadsgarage.com/index.shtml < http://www.dadsgarage.com/index.shtml > Go to: http://www.grahamchapmanarchives.com < http://www.grahamchapmanarchives.com >

This is Leicestershire website has a “Famous Faces” section that includes a short biography of Joe Orton: “Controversial playwright Joe Orton was born in Leicester and went to school on the Saffron Lane council estate before moving away to become a drama student in London at the age of 18. His celebrated plays, Loot, What the Butler Saw and Entertaining Mr Sloane, are known for their black humour and detached style. Orton himself was just 37-years-old when he was hammered to death by his lover Keith Halliwell, who killed himself after the attack. Last year, Leicester University raised £80,000 to buy a stack of papers, letters and theatre programmes left by Orton and bring them to the city. The man himself might have found in this a deep irony—he disliked Leicester and even when he returned for his mother's funeral, wanted to get away as quickly as possible!” Go to: http://www.thisisleicestershire.co.uk/scripts/addarticle.asp?id=00000014&area=Local%20interest&s=famous%5Ffaces&opensect=Famous%20faces


Every month, we will add a few more titles to what, we hope, will eventually become the definitive Joe Orton bibliography:


Orton, Joe. The Complete Plays. London: Methuen, 1976.
Orton, Joe. Fred and Madge, The Visitors: Two Plays. London: Nick Hern Books, 1998.
Orton, Joe. The Boy Hairdresser and Lord Cucumber: Two Novels. London: Nick Hern Books, 1999.
Orton, Joe. The Orton Diaries, Including the Correspondence of Edna Welthorpe and Others. London: Methuen, 1986.


Chambers, Colin. Peggy: The Life and Times of Margaret Ramsay, Play Agent. London: Nick Hern Books, 1997.


Gallix, Andrew. “Pour une littérature irréfutable: Joe Orton et De la tête aux pieds.” Théâtre / Public May-June 1995: 65-70.

Scobie, Claire. “What the Sister Saw.” The Sunday Telegraph 13 September 2000: 9.


Cohen, Ira. “From The Moroccan Journal.” 1987.

Mader, Travis. “Cut”. Duct Tape Press 24 March 2000. Mader, Travis. “Cut”. 3AM Magazine 20 November 2000.


Every month, we will add another Orton-related link. This month we recommend South Bank University’s The Knitting Circle which runs an excellent Joe Orton page:

Click Here – The Knitting Circle

Click Here - Joe Orton Community

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