Research Stories

Celebrating Leicester’s scandalous playwright

"Reading isn't an occupation we encourage among police officers. We try to keep the paperwork down to a minimum."

When it premiered in 1964, Entertaining Mr Sloane may have been seen as a scandalous attack on the establishment and emblematic of the liberated, satirical ‘swinging sixties’ – but Dr Parker’s research in the Joe Orton archive revealed that some major changes were made to the script before it was performed. Half a century on, she edited a ‘50th Anniversary Edition’ of the play which was given its world premiere at the University of Leicester by our student drama society LUTheatre, followed by a day-long event of screenings, talks and readings.

Two years later, it was the turn of Loot to fall under the academic scrutiny of Dr Parker. Alongside another full-day event of talks, discussions and readings there was an exhibition of archive material at Leicester’s New Walk Museum and Art Gallery. In 2017, for the anniversary of Orton’s death Dr Parker curated two further exhibitions about Orton at the Museum of Contemporary Art in London and the National Justice Museum in Nottingham.

man looking at artwork on a wall

"Sir – In finding so much to praise, surely your dramatic critic has taken leave of his senses."

While his establishment-baiting plays were the most obvious example of Orton’s flair for mischief (and his redesign of library books the most notorious) he also had fun as a pseudonymous letter-writer. He employed various pen-names but one in particular has become an established epistolary eponym – Mrs Edna Welthorpe. In 2017 this decent-minded, often outraged lady was re-animated, courtesy of Arts Council England and the University of Leicester, for a project entitled Yours Faithfully, Edna Welthorpe (Mrs).

Some of Britain’s leading comedy writers were invited to pen new Edna Welthorpe letters and rose to the occasion magnificently. Contributors included Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show, Fresh Meat), Arthur Matthews (Father Ted, Toast of London), Caroline Moran (Raised by Wolves), David Quantick (The Thick of It, Veep) - and Hollywood star Alec Baldwin. Dr Parker had heard that Baldwin was a big fan of Orton, contacted him and was delighted when he agreed to write his own Edna Welthorpe letter.

Other elements of Yours Faithfully, Edna Welthorpe (Mrs) included an animated film by BAFTA-nominated animator Chris Shepherd, starring Alison Steadman as the voice of Edna; a nationwide schools competition to write new Edna letters; and a marvellous event at Leicester’s Little Theatre bringing all these elements together (including a video message from Alec Baldwin).

‘Joe Orton: 50 Years On’ will conclude in 2019 with the anniversary of his final play What the Butler Saw.

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