- MANCHESTER - 1966
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.