Joe outside Noel Rd



In his short career, Joe Orton’s published work amounted to three stage plays, four short plays for radio and television, one film script and one posthumously published novel.

In Prick Up Your Ears, John Lahr defines Ortonesque as ‘shorthand for scenes of macabre outrageousness’ and regards Orton’s farce as ‘a combination of elegance and crudity’, which ‘is always ridiculous.’

While often described as ‘promising’, the posthumous success of his plays reveal a far greater talent. With What the Butler Saw, Orton had matured into satirical and farcical master, who was prepared to speak the unspeakable and tackle society’s taboos and hypocrisy head on. Orton rejected conventional morality and followed his own path, both with his works and his life.

There is a danger that Orton’s private life could overshadow his work, as his life story could be a script from one of his own plays: semi-literate, working class boy suffering years of penury and rejection sent to prison; a promiscuous homosexual in an age when it was both illegal and actively persecuted by the police; success, wealth and awards, ending with murder.

Orton’s life is undeniably bound up with his work, but it cannot be forgotten that the most successful period of his life, 1963 to 67, were also years of major social and political change. As Dr Francesca Coppa writes:

'Orton was a young man in the midst of an exploding youth culture…working class at a time when the working classes were forming an alternative British intelligentsia.’

Image: Courtesy The Leicester Mercury   Text © Leicester City Council / Quotes © John Lahr and Dr Francesca Coppa  

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