University of Leicester remembers playwright Joe Orton

Today is the 50th anniversary of the death of Leicester-born playwright Joe Orton and the occasion is being marked by a host of events remembering his work and involving our University.

Joe Orton (1933-1967) was a leading postwar playwright. His black comedies Entertaining Mr Sloane (1964), Loot (1966) and What the Butler Saw (1969) made him central to the Swinging Sixties. He appeared on the Eamonn Andrews Show, was photographed with model Twiggy and invited to write a screenplay for The Beatles.

To coincide with the anniversary, a special comedy event will pay tribute to Orton by using as its inspiration the prank letters of complaint that he penned using the pseudonym Mrs Edna Welthorpe. Yours Faithfully, Edna Welthorpe (Mrs) will take place at The Little Theatre on 9 August from 7pm and will see acclaimed actor Frances Barber reading Orton’s letters alongside new Edna letters commissioned from top comedy writers such as Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show, The Thick of It), Arthur Mathews (Father Ted) and Caroline Moran (Raised by Wolves). Even Alec Baldwin has joined in.

A new website has also been launched that pays tribute to Orton and his Edna Welthorpe letters, where you can read the newly commissioned letters and those written by the winners of a national creative writing competition that invited sixth form, college and university students to pen their own contribution.

The event is organised by Associate Professor in English, Dr Emma Parker (pictured left, with Alec Baldwin) of our School of Arts who has played a leading role in celebrating Orton’s legacy. She speaks about him to BBC Online and the Leicester Mercury today.

Dr Parker is also involved in three public exhibitions about Orton’s life and work which use material from the Joe Orton Collection at the University of Leicester. They are:

  • Crimes of Passion: The Story of Joe Orton at the National Justice Museum, Nottingham from 22 July - 1 October 2017.
  • What the Artist Saw: Art Inspired by the Life and Work of Joe Orton at New Walk Museum and Art Gallery, Leicester from 29 July - 22 October 2017.
  • Breaking Boundaries: Joe Orton and Me at Soft Touch: Young People’s Arts and Heritage Centre and Pork Pie Library, Leicester from 9 August - 8 September 2017

These mark the 50th anniversary of the death of the Leicester-born playwright whose archive is housed at the University of Leicester David Wilson Library. The Library also features a ‘ghost image’ of the writer created by the street artist STEWY.

This week, it was also announced that an uncensored version of Orton’s infamous play Loot would be staged for the first time, using a script from the University’s Joe Orton Archive. Simon Dixon from the University’s Special Collections said: “The Orton Collection is one of the jewels in our Library’s crown, and is available for consultation by students, researchers and members of the general public. This new production demonstrates the historical and cultural value of literary archives, and how they can enable fresh perspectives and interpretations of landmark works such as Loot.”

Watch actor Alec Baldwin interviewed by Dr Emma Parker about Joe Orton below: