“The two people who influenced Joe the most were his mother and Kenneth Halliwell. If one of those two people hadn’t been there then Joe’s writing would have been completely different”. Leonie Orton, 2007.
Joe Orton was born on Leicester’s Saffron Lane estate in 1933. After joining a number of drama groups in his teenage years, Orton won a scholarship to RADA in 1951. It was at RADA that Orton met Kenneth Halliwell, an actor and writer seven years his senior. Halliwell would become Orton’s friend, mentor, lover and, eventually, his murderer.
Between 1964 – 1967 Joe Orton, playwright, author and diarist, contributed to an exciting new working class culture that swept through the nation. A promiscuous and openly gay man at a time when homosexuality was actively persecuted by the police, Orton was the rising star of an ‘alternative British intelligentsia’. His first stage play, Entertaining Mr Sloane, was a huge success while his second, LOOT, won the coveted Evening Standard award for Best Play. Orton's success as a playwright and celebrity however put a distance between himself and Kenneth Halliwell that the latter found increasingly difficult to cope with.
In August 1967, Halliwell murdered Orton before killing himself with an overdose of sleeping pills. 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…”
In his short but prolific career, Joe Orton amused audiences with his scandalous black comedies. The retrospective exhibition, Ortonesque, and accompanying events programme explores the life and times of the man who made religion, sex and death outrageously funny.
The official Joe Orton website has been endorsed by the Orton Estate and has been created in partnership with Leicester City Council, the University of Leicester and Islington Council.
The website presents a wide range of information on Orton including his plays, diaries, news and events and online gallery. The website also includes articles, essays and research by Orton scholars and enthusiasts. Current contributors include Joe's sister, Leonie Orton- Barnett, noted Orton academic, Dr Francesca Coppa,Braham Murray, creative director of The Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, who directed Loot at the Century Theatre in Manchester in 1966 and Director David Gridley.