THE 'JOE ORTON PROJECT'
anyone familiar with Orton a variety of images probably
come to mind – delinquent, promiscuous, gay Jack-the-lad,
latter day Oscar Wilde, etc. Success with this project,
for us, meant getting past any preconceived notions and
listening with fresh ears to the man himself in his own
A gifted and skilled writer can observe the world and
then hand it back to us with their unique perspective,
challenging us to re-examine ourselves, shaking us out
of our comfort and complacency. Orton was such a writer.
He had an extraordinary eye for detail and an amazing
ability to capture little moments from life. His writing
and life lead us to question our beliefs and attitudes
to life, sex, authority, family and society as a whole.
Tension between the emotional and the physical seems to
be integral to Orton’s view of the world: between
the desire for closeness and the need to be removed, between
self-sufficiency and dependency, emotion and thought,
tragedy and comedy.
A difficulty that we faced was that there are so many
layers to his story, so many fascinating moments, yet
we wanted to avoid a sort of Orton biopic on stage. One
very important thing to emerge from the juvenile diaries
was the voice of an incredibly sickly, insecure, emotionally
and sexually immature person who was uneducated but still
very bright. When you compared this boy with the grown
man the gap between them two is just so enormous. But
that boy will still be somewhere in the older man and,
of course, the man in the boy.
Orton’s writing, with all his humour, comes from
real life, real pain and sorrow. We wanted to illuminate
some of both the tragedy and comedy in his own life and
We struggled with how to do this until we started to listen
to Joe himself. He said that his plays should be performed
as naturalistically as possible with no “comic acting”.
This is what we have done with his diaries.