Sketchbook's Reviews > The Orton Diaries

The Orton Diaries by Joe Orton
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Jan 23, 13

Read from May 03 to 05, 2012

"The trouble with Western Society today is the lack of
anything to conceal," teased Joe Orton in 1967, a short time
before receiving a deadly cosh from his jealous Signif Other.
Orton, the ultimate worldling whose plays reminded UK critics
of Ben Jonson, Shaw and an Oscar Wilde of the Welfare State,
kept a diary during the last months of his irreverent life
(d. age 34) that bursts w the upside down manners of his
ironic - classic - comedies.

Polishing his masterful chamber work, "What the Butler Saw,"
he opined: "Sex is the only way to infuriate the public.
Much more fucking and they'll be screaming hysterics--."

Like a Restoration playwright he exercises the comedy of
paradox -- w colloquial ease. US comic writers aim for the
punch-line (Neil Simon) or the put-down (Dorothy Parker).
Orton targets the mind with verbal jousts like "How dare
you involve me in a situation for which no memo has been
issued" and "Show your emotions in public or not at all."

The diary records his London life. After a trip to the barber,
he says, "My hair cut looks pretty good. It appears to be
quite natural whilst in actual fact being artificial. Which
is a philosophy I approve of."

Overheard conversation between two ladies on a bus: "There's
a lot of blue about lately." The other replies, "Yes, and
there's a lot of green about too." After buying a china pig
as a gift for his TV producer, he reports that the clerk "packed
it in a cardboard box that originally held three Bronco toilet
rolls. A more sensible present in many ways."

Forays with the Beatles are here, along with comments about
Olivier as "Othello" ("his costumes were just fashionable
beach wear"), and Vanessa Redgrave and her father ("he must have been bisexual or she wouldn't be alive today.") There's plenty of forthright sex. A doctor, he reports, keeps his house stocked
with lads, each with a task, including a boy responsible for the
goldfish. Finger wag : "Now, Dennis, you've neglected to feed
the fish. What is your excuse?" "Well, you see, I had the trade
in and I forgot." "You've no right to have the trade in until
you've fed the goldfish."

The Orton charm is YouTube visible in an Eamonn Andrews TVer just before he died. In life, in theatre, in his diary -- too much is never enough for the wondrous Joe Orton horseplay, except when it was.


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Comments (showing 1-34 of 34) (34 new)

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message 1: by Jesse (last edited May 05, 2012 04:11PM) (new)

Jesse Oh wow, I picked this up recently and is on my list for summer reading. Now I'm looking forward to it even more!


message 2: by Sketchbook (last edited May 05, 2012 04:22PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sketchbook It's hilarious...catch the tver w Eamonn Andrews. Very interesting.


message 3: by Jessica (new)

Jessica I love Orton.


Sketchbook Yes--an Original !


message 5: by Emilie (new)

Emilie great first line, i think he'd like it. i've never read him, but i saw the movie with gary oldman playing him a long time ago.


Sketchbook Orton's personal story (pre-Halliwell and with) suggests a mixed nutcake in the most positive sense. That is, how family, environment, friends, circumstances can shape us, but there has to be a there There for starters. The contortions of the language in his plays is dazzling.


message 7: by Mark (new)

Mark Great review. Read this a few years ago and then I saw a film in which I think Alfred Molina played Kenneth Halliwell, I can't remember who played Orton maybe it was the same film as Emilie mentions. Kenneth Williams' diaries feature Orton a good deal initially too. Williams seemed to live fairly vicariously through Orton; indeed a number of people seemed to have done that to a certain extent, maybe even Halliwell himself. I suppose his up-front 'outrage' was perfect for less confident people to hide behind.

I seem to remember reading that Halliwell, having caved Orton's head in and taken an overdose, died before Orton who then bled to death slowly. Seems horribly macabre but perhaps Orton would have approved of the nonsensical farce of it all


Sketchbook Perceptive remarks. KHs macabre act was, it seems, his way of finishing an Orton "play." KH was dead on pills before the smashed Orton died.

Americans have difficulty acting Orton : there's so much irony in the deadpan-zany lines. And dirs. have difficulty finding the precise tone.

Yes, KWilliams was strongly attached; I read there's a new bio on him...(Im only aware of KW via the Orton diaries)...."Prick Up Your Ears" is the film w Molina, Vanessa Redgrave as Orton's agent and Gary Oldham as Orton. Oldham is a good actor but lacks the Orton charm, which one sees in the (YT) '67 Eamonn Andrews interview. "I had no idea," I muttered to myself. A fatal charm. But, then, it always is.


message 9: by Mark (new)

Mark "A fatal charm. But, then, it always is."

Do i detect a wistful Sketch today ?


Sketchbook One is always wishful.


message 11: by Mark (new)

Mark Not a bad 'always' to be


Sketchbook I agree. Even if one gets T and H mixed.


message 13: by Jessica (new)

Jessica haha! I wondered about that. :)


Sketchbook Im a charter member of the T&H Club. And it's not due to bad eyesight.


message 15: by Jessica (new)

Jessica at first glance I thought 'T and H mixed' was a drink. And a good one.


message 16: by Mark (new)

Mark I thought you were being very clever and deep and now I find its due to bad typing. How devastating. Sketch has feet of clay. I shall have to go and sink a large Bank Holiday Monday Glass of wine now to console myself.


message 17: by Jessica (new)

Jessica try mixing an H & T instead.


Sketchbook It is a good one - I predict - once I find the kerect potions. (Vodka-campari?) "Two potions a day keep the MD away."


Sketchbook Mark wrote: "I thought you were being very clever and deep and now I find its due to bad typing. How devastating. Sketch has feet of clay. I shall have to go and sink a large Bank Holiday Monday Glass of wine n..."

Hold tight! Now that we've careened into Act 2, as a result of comedic ripostes, I dare not clarify. Except to say, I disappoint no one.


message 20: by Mark (new)

Mark Yeah but I had sent my riposte before yours...so there !!


Sketchbook I refer to #10. Not on Downing Street.


message 22: by Mark (new)

Mark curses. To be defeated by a typo...its just too much


Sketchbook Naw. Just a little rumba numba.


Sketchbook Orton-Albee were contemps. Albee embraced the pretention that Orton satirized. In 3-4 years, Orton left 3 modern classics. Alb left 2 'good' plays > Woolf & 3 Tall Women. Still, one mustnt be too harsh...


message 25: by Mark (new)

Mark Thanks for those well thought out and argued points Gerard. Very helpful


message 26: by Jessica (new)

Jessica wow, Gerard, this is the sum total of your remarks on goodreads?
0 books, just this 1 nasty comment on this 1 review?


message 27: by Sketchbook (last edited Jan 20, 2013 12:21PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sketchbook Folo-up : Gerard, whoever it is (?), has never put another comment on here....or there.


message 28: by Jessica (new)

Jessica curious.


David I like Gerard's housemate! Is he on goodreads?


Sketchbook Flush 'im out.


message 31: by Mala (new)

Mala "Show your emotions in public or not at all."
Touché!


Sketchbook Yes - I luv this line.


message 33: by Lynne (new) - added it

Lynne King Sketchbook, I was so pleased to come across your refreshing review. Joe Orton was brilliant and such wit. I must purchase this. So many books piling up though...


Sketchbook Tks. Orton was in a class unto himself. I like to reread his plays as they're seldom done and, in US at least, then not very well.


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