Set and costume designer for theatre and film, Kate designed a theatrical installation based on the life and work of Joe Orton in the summer of 2007 - see details here



When I came to Leicester to start my degree in 1995 I looked for Joe Orton after doing some research and discovering him as one of Leicester’s heroes. I couldn’t find him. He remained at the back of my mind for some years then one night I watched Prick Up Your Ears. This wonderful film from another of Leicester’s heroes, Stephen Frears, re-awoke my fascination with Joe and something compelled me to do something about it. I had never produced my own work before, always employed by a director and led by someone else’s vision. I applied for funding from the Arts Council but long before I found out I’d got the money, when I started my research, I decided I had to do the work whatever happened. His humour, dedication to his art, passion for literature and lust for life and the living of it rubbed off on me.

There are so many things about him I respect and admire. He didn’t care about fame or wealth. He and Kenneth lived on the absolute minimum, rising with the dawn, working all morning then reading all afternoon till the sun went down when they slept to save on electricity. They saved their money so they didn’t have to work and could continue to expand their minds and develop their writing. I think about this aspect of their lives a lot. I wish I could be so disciplined and even when he achieved the fame, recognition and money they continued in this manner. He just wanted to be respected and recognised. In our distorted age of celebrity where real talent, intellect and integrity are not forthcoming or even recognised it seems hard to imagine similar aspirations today.

He was a gay hero and icon. Open about his sexuality and not afraid to refer to it directly in his work, which may seem tame now. Although the 1960’s were apparently a time of sexual enlightenment, and homosexuality was on the brink of being legalised, his work was incredibly daring and brave.

I spent so much time with him swimming round my mind when I was researching my project. Trying to find visual and creative ways of presenting him and his work to an audience. The pressure and responsibility was enormous. I wasn’t sure I was able to convey his true character and spirit. What do I know? I never met him. How can I possibly capture his immense creativity and personality? I don’t know if I did. What I hope is that some of the respect, love, fascination and curiosity I have for him was visible and inspired others. It’s odd that when I think of him it’s like someone I know or have met. He followed his heart and his passions and did what he wanted, regardless of the consequences. He wasn’t hurting anyone after all... apart from Kenneth.

Image: Courtesy Kate Unwin   Text © Kate Unwin  

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