Dialogue Joe Orton wrote 50 years ago for his darkly comic masterpiece Loot is to be heard for the very first time on stage in the UK.
Material judged too scandalous or morally dubious in 1967 by the official censor, the Lord Chamberlain, is being reinstated for a production at London’s Park Theatre and Watermill Theatre in Berkshire.
Orton was murdered by his lover Kenneth Halliwell half a century ago this Wednesday on August 9, 1967.
The Joe Orton Estate, run by the playwright’s sister Leonie, agreed the original script could be used and has given permission for the sections of dialogue to be performed for the very first time.
These include a scene the Lord Chamberlain (a member of the Royal Household) believed alluded to homosexual acts and relationships – which were then still illegal – blasphemy and S & M. The censor also didn’t like references to “knock shop” and found a speech about a corpse’s body parts to be an outrage – and they were deleted with his famous blue pen.
Leonie said: “This is what Joe originally wrote, but it was censored at the time. It’s a sad anniversary, yet good that what Joe actually felt and wrote is to be staged for the first time.”
Orton wrote several letters to the censor and tried to get this dialogue back into Loot but was unsuccessful.
Themes considered taboo by the Lord Chamberlain, even in the anything-goes 1960s, included homosexuality, artificial insemination, and bad language. Criticisms of the Church and the Crown were also considered beyond the pale.
Loot ran in the West End from the end of 1966 to end of 1967. Stage censorship was abolished for by the Theatres Act 1968.
Director Michael Fentiman, who discovered the earlier script in the archives of Leicester University in the playwright’s home city, said: “50 years on from the death of Joe Orton, the decriminalisation of homosexuality and the fall of censorship in the British theatre – it has been a great honour to discover what a scandal Joe was causing in those pivotal moments towards the end of the 1960’s. While still writing very much about the time he is living in – what’s clear from these discoveries – is that Joe’s world view was incredibly modern. What’s also clear, from Joe’s letters and diaries, is that he didn’t fully believe the events in his play Loot, were that shocking at all. Homosexual relationships, corrupt policeman, the pomposity of secular society, the disregard for the significance of a lump of dead flesh were truths for Joe – plain to see in the world. What was hilarious to Orton, was that society – with all its inconsistent and hypocritical moral values – spent so much energy on venting their outrage and shock over them! It’s a real pleasure being allowed the opportunity to include passages in our production that caused such shock and outrage is 1966 that they were unable to be heard in Joe’s lifetime – and in doing so release a little more of the daring spirit of Joe Orton in the air.”
LOOT is from the same producers as the recent sell-out hit The Boys in the Band that starred Mark Gatiss. It will run at London’s Park Theatre from 17 August – 24 September. It will then transfer to the Watermill Theatre, Newbury, Berkshire, from 28 September – 21 October.
When it premiered five decades ago, LOOT shocked and delighted audiences in equal measure and it scooped the Best Play of the Year Award in the 1967 Evening Standard Awards. This production commemorates the momentous, transformative passing in July 1967 of The Sexual Offences Act, which partially decriminalised homosexual acts in private between two men over the age of 21.
Cast includes: Calvin Demba (Evening Standard Emerging Talent Award nominee, The Red Lion, National Theatre) and Sam Frenchum (Private Peaceful, Grantchester) and the award-winning Sinéad Matthews (Mrs Elvsted in Ivo van Hove’s Hedda Gabler, National Theatre), are Christopher Fulford (Winston Churchill in Werner Herzog’s Queen of the Desert, The Crucible, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre), Ian Redford (The Alchemist, Mad World My Master, Candide, all for the RSC) and Raphael Bar (national tour of Out of Order) with Anah Ruddin.
Tom O’Connell, James Seabright
and The Watermill Theatre in association
with King’s Head Theatre and Park Theatre
by Joe Orton
Thursday 17 August – Saturday 24 September
London, N4 3JP