University of Leicester research into Joe Orton’s relationship with Kenneth Halliwell to feature in LGBTQ+ mental health exhibition

Credit: Moon Saris

A play about the Leicester-born playwright, Joe Orton, informed by research from the University of Leicester, will feature in The Netherlands’ first exhibition about LGBTQ+ mental health.

The play, Poetic Licence, by acclaimed Dutch writer, Frank Siera, and directed by Michaël Bloos, explores Orton’s relationship with his partner, Kenneth Halliwell.

During the development of the play, Dr Emma Parker, Associate Professor of Twentieth Century and Contemporary Literature, shared her research into representations of Orton and Halliwell’s relationship with Frank Siera.

Both Orton and Halliwell died in 1967 when Halliwell murdered Orton before committing suicide.

Dr Parker said: “Following the film Prick Up your Ears (1987), there have been an astonishing number of plays about Orton and Halliwell.

“These texts typically present their relationship as doomed and demonise Halliwell as jealous, possessive and selfish. “

I’m interested in what assumptions about homosexuality this image serves and what this cultural preoccupation with the deaths of Orton and Halliwell reveals about attitudes to queer life and love.”

Siera commented: “I wanted to retell the story of Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell in a more nuanced and sympathetic way by focusing on their love and suggesting that Kenneth was in a psychotic state when he killed Joe then himself.”

Poetic Licence debuted at the Over het IJ theatre festival, Amsterdam, in July 2022 before touring The Netherlands.

Dr Parker is now collaborating with Siera and Bloos again on an installation about the play at Mind the Gap, the Netherlands’ first exhibition exploring LGBTQ+ mental health.

The exhibition reflects on the prevalence of mental illness in the LGBTQ+ community through new artworks by leading international artists: Annaleen Louwes, Diana Blok, Dodi Espinosa, Gabrielle Le Roux and Jorik Amit Galama.

Mind the Gap will be opened by the Mayor of Amsterdam, Femke Halsema on Friday, 10 March.

Dr Parker is noted as leading the revived interest in Joe Orton’s work. She became involved with the Mind the Gap project through her collaboration with Wilco Tuinebreijer, Director of Beautiful Distress, a charity that seeks to make mental health issues visible through the arts.

Mind the Gap, Beautiful Distress House, Amsterdam, 10 March - 5 May 2023.

The play Poetic Licence was developed with the support of Beautiful Distress and the Wellcome Trust ISSF. The Poetic Licence installation is funded by the ESRC Impact Acceleration Account (2019: Leicester ES/T501967/1).