I have an embarrassing confession to make. I don’t get the theater. I can’t get past the idea that grown adults are up on stage “acting out” their issues. To make matters worse, I have remarkably pedestrian taste in theater.
I make an exception for Joe Orton’s work. Between 1964 and 1967, Joe Orton helped reinvent the British theater with a working class attitude. He was the toast of an ‘alternative British intelligentsia’. His plays, Entertaining Mr. Sloane and Loot were commercial and critical successes. His career was cut short at age 34. In August 1967, his lover, Kenneth Halliwell, suffering from severe depression, murdered Orton before killing himself. Halliwell's suicide note referred to the contents of Orton's diary as an explanation of his actions: ‘If you read his diary, all will be explained …’
Years before Orton achieved success he spent time in prison for defacing library books. I don’t approve of defacing books unless it makes them better. I would much rather read The 3 Faces of Eve if one of Eve’s personalities were a house cat. And The Great Tudors has a far more interesting group than the actual Tudors.
He also defaced the flyleaf descriptions for the books, making them sound far more interesting.
And replacing the original text in the flyleaf of 'Clouds of Witness' by Dorothy L Sayers:
Orton also wrote complaint letters by the fictional Edna Welthorpe and other pseudonyms. Edna wrote about bad pie filling, or engaged in an ongoing argument with a catalogue company. Other characters wrote letters to the theater showing Orton’s plays to complain about the low morals. I've considered this myself, although I may do the opposite, create a fictional terrible design firm, Cutsie Pie Dezigns, and write glowing reviews of every horrible item produced.
As a playgoer of forty years standing, may I say that I heartily agree with Peter Pinnell in his condemnation of 'Entertaining Mr Sloane'. I myself was nauseated by this endless parade of mental and physical perversion. And to be told that such a disgusting piece of filth now passes for humour! Today's young playwrights take it upon themselves to flaunt their contempt for ordinary decent people. I hope that the ordinary decent people of this country will shortly strike back!
Edna Welthorpe (Mrs)
15th November 1958.
I am puzzled by several letters I have received from you. Apparently you are under the impression that I am organising something for you, or at least that someone in this flat is. I assure you that there is no one called Mr Orton living here. I am a widow and dwell alone. You state that catalogues are expensive. I have no doubt that they are, but what, may I ask, has that to do with me. You surely cannot imagine that I have stolen your catalogue. And as for selling anything which your firm makes ... Please believe me if I arrived at the New Acol Bridge Club with a catalogue under my arm and explained to my friends that all goods were at cash prices, yet payable by small weekly installments, why I think they would laugh at me. Will you please stop sending letters to me, or I shall seriously have to consider putting the affair into the hands of my solicitor.
Edna Welthorpe. (Mrs)
30th April 1965
Flat 4,25, Noel Road, London, N.1
I recently purchased a tin of Morton's blackcurrant pie filling. It was delicious. Choc-full of rich fruit. Then, wishing to try another variety, I came upon Smedley's raspberry pie filling. And I tried that. And really! How can you call such stuff pie filling? There wasn't a raspberry in it. I was very disappointed after trying Morton's blackcurrant.Please try to do better in future. And what on earth is `EDIBLE STARCH' and 'LOCUST BEAN GUM'? If that is what you put into your pie fillings I'm not surprised at the result.I shan't try any more of your pie fillings until the fruit content is considerably higher. My stomach really turned at what I saw when I opened the tin.
Edna Welthorpe (Mrs)
In finding so much to praise in 'Entertaining Mr. Sloane,' which seems to be nothing more than a highly sensationalized, lurid, crude and over-dramatised picture of life at its lowest, surely your dramatic critic has taken leave of his senses.
The effect this nauseating work had on me was to make we want to fill my lungs with some fresh, wholesome Leicester Square air. A distinguished critic, if I quote him correctly, felt the sensation of snakes crawling around his ankles while watching it.
I cannot recall a successful play - from, say, Othello to St Joan, from Tamburlaine to Look Back in Anger - which concerned itself with 'ordinary decent people'! Ordinary, decent people are the salt of the earth and the backbone of the country but they do not make subjects for exciting, stimulating, controversial drama. John A Carlsen Sir - Mr Carlsen's suggestion that Othello (the noble Moor!) and St Joan (belatedly canonised) are not decent people I find more than controversial. I find it completely unacceptable!
Any oasis in the wasteland is welcome. And Entertaining Mr Sloane is not a mirage which disappears when the thirsty traveller approaches. If we find the customs of the country differ from our own - what else is foreign travel for?
Donald H Hartley