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University backs campaign for statue of iconic Leicester playwright Joe Orton

The University of Leicester’s involvement with, and celebration of, the legacy of Leicester playwright Joe Orton continues with the announcement of a crowdfunding appeal to raise money for a statute.

For the past few years, the University has been instrumental in commemorating the fiftieth anniversaries of Orton’s three iconic plays – Loot, Entertaining Mr Sloane and What the Butler Saw – and of the writer’s tragic early death in 1967. Orton expert Dr Emma Parker from the School of Arts has been instrumental in not only celebrating Orton’s legacy but also exploring his life and work. Her research has offered new insights into his two short but fascinating lives: his professional life as a working class writer whose work appeared in the West End, and his personal life as a gay man witnessing the final push for decriminalisation of homosexuality.

Now Dr Parker is Chair of the Appeal to commission a statue of Joe Orton, to be situated in Orton Square, which was named in the writer’s honour when the Curve theatre opened in 2008.

Dr Parker says: “A statue of Joe Orton in Leicester will ensure a great writer is not forgotten, celebrate the city's literary heritage and offer an inspirational reminder that talent is everywhere and art is for everyone.”

The University of Leicester has given its full backing to the Joe Orton Statue Appeal, including funding the launch event on Thursday 25 July 2019 and providing some of the rewards available to those who contribute to the £100,000 target. The University Library Special Collections houses the Joe Orton Archive of correspondence, scrapbooks, draft scripts and other material which has informed Dr Parker’s research.

A host of celebrities including Sir Ian McKellen, Stephen Fry, Alec Baldwin, Kenneth Cranham and Sheila Hancock are lending their support to the fundraising campaign which has been organised by a committee of Orton fans in Leicester and is headed by his sister Leonie Orton and Dr Emma Parker.

  • “The idea that in Orton Square there should be a statue, a memorial to Joe Orton, is terrific.” - Sir Ian McKellen
  • "I have craved Orton’s writing for a long time, whether I’m sitting on stage or performing in the cast. There are no comparisons. He’s a true original. Half poet, half devil’s apprentice. I never tire of his wit, soul and anarchy." - Alec Baldwin
  • “Joe Orton has always been a hero to me, both in his work and in the authenticity, wit and wonder of his life. A statue is a wonderful idea.” - Stephen Fry

Born in Leicester and raised on the Saffron Lane council estate, Orton shocked, outraged, and amused audiences with his scandalous black comedies such as Loot, Entertaining Mr Sloane and What the Butler Saw.  His career, although short lived, was incredibly significant, influencing future generations of writers, so much so that his unique style has given rise to the adjective ‘Ortonesque’ to describe work that blends the comic and the macabre. His life, as revealed in his diaries, was as scandalous as his plays, and he died tragically at the age of 34, murdered by his lover, Kenneth Halliwell, in 1967.

One of only a handful of memorials to LGBT icons in the UK, a fundraising platform has been set up to meet the projected cost of £100,000 to design, create and site the statue within a prominent position in the city of Leicester. The design of the statue will be subject to a competition where artists will be asked to represent a likeness of Orton in a suitably ‘Ortonesque’ way. It is hoped that the statue, the favoured location of which is Orton Square by Curve, at the heart of the Cultural Quarter, will become a symbol of Leicester’s significant literary heritage and passionate commitment to diversity and inclusivity.

Leonie Orton, who administers the estate of Joe Orton with her sister Marilyn, said: “A statue of Joe will ensure that a great writer is not forgotten, raise awareness of Leicester’s rich literary heritage and serve as an inspirational reminder that talent is everywhere and art is for everyone, regardless of social background or circumstance.”

The launch of the Joe Orton Statue Appeal took place at Curve on 25 July 2019 where invited guests and Orton fans were presented with a short fundraising film from Sir Ian McKellen and Leonie Orton, as well as being given the first opportunity to pledge their support to the statue’s funding. 

The fundraising campaign is supported by the University of Leicester, Leicester City Council, Curve, Fraser Urquhart Media and Big Difference Company. Donations can be made at www.spacehive.com/joe-orton-statue-appeal

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