Joe the boundaries and brought ‘homosexuality to the

Joe Orton, born in 1933 in Leicester, was an English
playwright and author who was known for shocking and entertaining his audiences
with his black comedies (The Sun 2017).
In 1951, Orton won a scholarship to The Royal Academic of Dramatic Art (RADA)
where he met Kenneth Halliwell. Halliwell was his ‘friend, mentor, lover and,
eventually, his murderer’ (Joe Orton
n.d.).    

 

During his short public career starting from 1964 to his
tragic death in 1967, Orton’s plays were ‘part of the new counterculture that
shaped the Swinging Sixties’ (Edna
Welthorpe 2017). Orton, who was an openly working-class gay man at a time when
homosexuality was still a crime, created plays which coincided with an exciting
working class culture which had influenced the country (Joe Orton n.d.). He created plays such as Entertaining Mr Sloane, Loot and What the Butler Saw which are ‘highly autobiographical, but the
events and characters of real life are farcically distanced and grotesquely
stylised’ (Charney 1984), and
expressed ‘irreverence towards authority and mocked the Establishment’ (Edna Welthorpe 2017). His work was
extremely controversial, so much so that he had to undergo alterations to his
scripts by the Lord Chamberlain’s Office in order for his scripts to get
licensed.

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On 9th August 1967, Kenneth Halliwell brutally
murdered Joe Orton with a hammer to the head. He then overdosed on sleeping pills
and committed suicide. Halliwell suffered from severe depression which was
perhaps triggered by his mother’s death when he was a child and his father’s
suicide. He was Orton’s tutor, mentor and lover, which eventually created
problems for the couple as soon as Orton’s work started to become successful. Orton’s
death mimics his plays as ‘lover’s actions in beating his brains out and then
destroying himself were consistent with the violent, reductive and morally
irresponsible world that Orton created in his own work’ (Bigsby 1982). It could be said that Halliwell was jealous over
Orton’s accomplishments and eventually Halliwell’s contributions and ideas were
ignored. Orton’s plays broke the boundaries and brought ‘homosexuality to the
surface, but his lover was still hidden away’ (The Guardian 2007). Halliwell was also a writer, but his partner’s
achievements overshadowed his work. His most famous words were the words that
closed his suicide note: ‘If you read his diary all will be explained. KH. PS
Especially the last part.’ (The Guardian
2007).

 

Despite his career being extremely short, Joe Orton
entertained, amused and shocked his audiences with his remarkable, witty and
scandalous black comedies that satirised social and sexual inequality (Edna Welthorpe 2017).   

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