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X-rated Orton play gets stage debut at Park Theatre

50 years after writer was murdered, censored material features in play at Finsbury Park theatre

11 August, 2017 — By Koos Couvée

Calvin Demba as Dennis, and Sam Frenchum as Hal, in Loot

DIALOGUE written by groundbreaking playwright Joe Orton more than half a century ago for his dark comic masterpiece Loot is to be heard for the very first time on stage.

Material judged too scandalous or morally dubious that was taken out by the official censor, Lord Chamberlain, when the play first went on show in 1966, is being reinstated for a production at the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park.

It includes a scene that Lord Chamberlain, a member of the Royal Household, believed alluded to homosexual acts and relationships – which were then still illegal – and S&M.

The censor also took out references to “knock shop” and found a speech about a corpse’s body parts to be an outrage – they were deleted with his famous blue pen. Lord Chamberlain further censored part of the dialogue that referred to Christ being “framed” by the Romans before he was nailed to the cross, which was considered blasphemous.

Orton was murdered by his lover Kenneth Halliwell, 50 years ago this Wednesday, at their Angel flat.

Joe Orton

The Joe Orton Estate, managed by the playwright’s sister Leonie, agreed that the original script could be used and has given permission for the sections of dialogue to be performed for the very first time. Loot, directed by Michael Fentiman, who dug up Orton’s original writing from Leicester University’s archives, will go on show at Park next Thursday.

Ms Orton 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.

“All Joe’s plays were about offending the general public and the powerful – he was having a go at society in general. They are a commentary about a society that is corrupt.”

Loot is a dark farce that satirises the Roman Catholic Church, social attitudes to death, and police corruption.

Themes considered taboo by 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.

Orton wrote several letters to the censor in an attempt to get the dialogue put back into Loot but was unsuccessful.

The play ran in the West End from the end of 1966 to the end of 1967. Stage censorship was abolished a year later.

Leonie Orton, the playwright’s sister

Mr Fentiman said: “What’s 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 policemen, 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 in 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 will run at Park Theatre from August 17 to September 24. It will then transfer to the Watermill Theatre in Newbury, Berkshire, from September 28 to October 21.

When it premiered five decades ago, the play shocked and delighted audiences in equal measure. It scooped the Best Play of the Year Award in the 1967 Evening Standard Awards.

The new production commemorates the passing in July 1967 of The Sexual Offences Act, which partially decriminalised homosexual acts in private between two men over the age of 21.

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