Script for 'Entertaining Mr Sloane' showing Orton's comments and corrections

Dr James Methven is Dean of Oriel & Lecturer in English, Oriel College, Oxford. He directed and played Ed in the Oxford University production of Entertaining Mr Sloane in 2002 and this piece appeared in the theatre programme.




"I find lust an emotion indistinguishable from anger."
(Orton's Diary, 26 July 1967)

In Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, Jack finds that his fictional double life as 'John' and 'Ernest' conforms to a reality he has never known (he was christened 'Ernest John'); Sloane's fictional self, prepared to give out to his landlady and her brother, becomes Sloane's real self when the two of them trap him into the image he has adopted of the ambiguous dangerous man-child, as portrayed by young turks James Dean and Marlon Brando in the cinema of the 50s. Bisexual hooliganism is Sloane's final fate, his Adonis beauty shallowly hiding his chameleon nature. Self-invention sticks, as Orton was to find. Like his young creations (Hal and Dennis in Loot, Nick in What the Butler Saw, and Sloane), Orton managed two deliberate cultural shifts in his inventive presentation of his life. His autobiographical sketch for the programme for Sloane in '64 shaved his age from thirty-one to twenty-five, highlighted his working-class background, insisted on his educational failure (no '11 plus' for young John), revealed his time in prison and his time on the National Assistance since, talked of marriage and divorce, and finished with the disingenuous question, 'Is that enough?' With this mixture of truth, fiction and lie, Orton demonstrated that working-class autodidacts in the 60s could be every bit as cultured, every bit as assured and knowing, as those attending university. Further, by being photographed in his uniform of leather jacket and white T-shirt he showed that homosexuals need not conform to the stereotype of being 'sensitive' (a euphemism at the time for 'homosexual' and one which Ed denies), that tough masculinity was not a preserve of the heterosexual. In Orton's dissection of sexuality, compartments are not watertight; they leak and slop their messy contents. Finally, it is impossible to label Sloane and Ed as 'gay' or 'bisexual'; teasing out the possibilities of either's sexual history is a ticklish problem indeed.

Ed: Principles, boy, bleeding principles.
Orton's willingness to enact taboo material on stage and readiness to be photographed staring impassively to camera left the press in love with this new golden boy of the British theatre. Headlines such as 'It's still Fish and Chips for Joe Orton' or 'What Prison Did for This Playwright' sound as though they might have been penned by Orton himself. Self-conscious and contrived as his art is, it wriggles with delight in the knowledge that it is up there with the greats of the English tradition. His literary forebears run along a line that includes Marlowe, Congreve, Austen, Wilde, and the man he termed 'the master', Ronald Firbank. Add to that the trash he read in prison while locked up for twenty-three hours a day and you have the ingredients of an arch manner that, like Sloane's sexuality, defies labels.

Sloane: There are fascinating possibilities in this situation. I'd get it down on paper if I were you.
Questions of meta-theatricality aside, comic menace pulses through Sloane. The possibilities of bad sex, bad behaviour, bad background, bad upbringing, bad men, and one 'very bad boy' gave Orton all he needed to make his 'first play' an outrageous success, winning the London Critics' Variety Award for Best Play of 1964. As one outraged member of the public, Peter Pinnell, opined in the letters section of the Daily Telegraph: 'Sir - In finding so much to praise in Entertaining Mr Sloane, which seems to be nothing more than a highly sensationalised, lurid, crude and over-dramatised picture of life at its lowest, surely your dramatic critic has taken leave of his senses. The effect this nauseating work had on me was to make me want to fill my lungs with some fresh, wholesome Leicester Square air. A distinguished critic, if I quote him correctly, felt the sensation of snakes swarming around his ankles while watching it.' But Peter Pinnell, like so much else concerning Orton, was a fiction. Orton wrote the letter himself.

IImage: Courtesy The Orton Estate/Joe Orton Collection at the Library of the University of Leicester   Text © Dr James Methven, Orton Quotes: © The Orton Estate  

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