Braham Murray is a founding Artistic Director of the Royal Exchange Theatre Company in Manchester. His theatrical career has spanned over four decades
and has taken him all over the world.

Here, Braham describes his experiences directing Loot in 1966 at the Century Theatre, Manchester. The extract is taken from his autobiography ‘The Worst It Can Be Is A Disaster’ Copyright © Methuen Drama.

Reproduced by kind permission of the publishers. Copies of The Worst It Can Be Is A Disaster and the works of Joe Orton can be purchased from




Miss Worlds don't fall into your lap every day. This time destiny arrived in the more familiar shape of Michael Codron. He had presented Entertaining Mr Sloane with great success in London and sent out his next one, Loot, on a pre-London tour with a glitzy cast headed by Kenneth Williams and directed by Peter Wood. As well as causing huge outrage to Respectable of Worthing, it had flopped badly because the production had been misconceived. Codron still believed in the play and wanted to revive it at Hampstead with me directing. I explained why I couldn't but offered to put on in Manchester as our next production.

I met Joe Orton outside Baker Street tube station. Quite contrary to the lurid impression that the papers had given of him, he was charming and rather shy. We sat in a coffee bar and discussed the play, which for once I had genuinely loved, and he agreed to let me do it. I suppose it was his only chance so he took it.

For a while he made some radical alterations to the script, notably condensing it from three acts to two. I would visit him in his Islington flat to discuss the changes while his frankly terrifying companion, Kenneth Halliwell, sat like a bloated spider in the corner.

My old friend the Lord Chamberlain had made some pretty savage deletions, which I was determined to have reinstated. When I turned up at Lieutenant-Colonel Eric Penn's office his reaction was, 'Oh, not you again!' he capitulated pretty quickly. Joe was delighted.

I persuaded Julian Chagrin to play Truscott and he was quite hysterically funny, so funny that it was almost impossible to get through rehearsals. John and Ann Bloomfield designed the set that Joe wanted and the show was a success. A couple of critics from London came up and gave it good reviews. Everyone was pleased.

In truth it couldn't have been that good. I realised the play was in part satire on the police force, but I had no idea about its sexual content. In spite of my adventure with John Dexter, I didn't really understand the bisexual nature of the two boys, Hal and Dennis. I had cast Michael Elwyn and Peter Childs in the roles, who were as resolutely heterosexual as could be. When I came to do the play again decades later with Derek Griffiths as Truscott, I was mortified at what I had missed in 1966. It is sobering what directors can get away with.

Never mind, Oscar Lewenstein decided to take it to the West End. The problem was that because of the controversy that had dogged its original production, no theatre would risk it. As it was reported to me by Lewenstein, Charles Marowitz at the Jeanetta Cochrane would chance it but only if he could direct it. That may just have been an excuse but I knew Joe was happy to go with me. I was young and naive, so I readily relinquished my rights in the play's future. The rest is history. Loot was a big West End hit and a brilliant play was saved from oblivion.

Image: Courtesy Royal Exchange Theatre   Text © Methuen Drama with kind permission  

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