Tom Shkolnik is recognised as a truly creative director, an auteur, who projects his personal vision into his work.

As part of Leicester’s 40th Anniversary Orton Festival, Tom and actor Jamie Baughan collaborated to devise the highly acclaimed Joe Orton Project, a new piece of theatre drawing on Orton’s diaries, including his unpublished juvenile diaries, which received its international premiere at Phoenix Arts, Leicester.

Tom regularly teaches acting students, writes and directs both live professional theatre and student productions.




For 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 words.

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 writing.

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.

Image © Tom Shkolnik   Text © Tom Shkolnik  

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