5 March 2020 / Events

The Joe Orton Diaries: Love, Death and Wolfenden

The Joe Orton Diaries: Love, Death and Wolfenden

Delivered by Dr Emma Parker

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Best known for his three stage plays, Entertaining Mr Sloane (1964), Loot (1966) and What the Butler Saw (1969), Joe Orton also produced one of the most (in)famous diaries in literary history. By considering the diary as a privileged form of expression for sexual minorities in the pre-Stonewall era, this lecture challenges the prevailing view that the diaries explain Orton’s sensational murder in terms of Kenneth Halliwell’s professional and sexual insecurity. Often seen as chronicling a relationship in decline, the diaries instead acknowledge the life and love that Orton shared with Halliwell; posthumous publication ensured the lasting visibility of a partnership that Orton was compelled to elide in public before the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967. The political significance of the diaries is further reassessed by reading them as a response to the Wolfenden Report (1957). Rather than implying that Orton’s promiscuity was the catalyst for Halliwell’s deadly rage, the diaries counter the construction of a ‘respectable’ homosexual deserving of social acceptance through a candid record of public, group and (what became in 1967) underage sex. Overall, this re-reading of The Orton Diaries opposes the narrative of tragic queerness that typically defines Orton’s life, casting new light on the Orton-Halliwell relationship and on the diary as a form of queer protest.

Dr Emma Parker is Associate Professor of English at the University of Leicester, home of the Joe Orton archive. She has published a 50th anniversary edition of Entertaining Mr Sloane (Methuen Drama, 2014) and essays on Orton’s relationship to Shakespeare, art and music. She co-curated the exhibitions ‘What the Artist Saw: Art Inspired by the Life and Work of Joe Orton’ (Museum of Contemporary Art, London; New Walk Museum and Art Gallery, Leicester, 2017) and ‘Crimes of Passion: The Story of Joe Orton’ (National Justice Museum, Nottingham, 2017). The website she created to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Orton’s death in 2017, featuring contributions from actor Alec Baldwin, singer Holly Johnson and filmmaker Chris Shepherd, won a Saboteur Award:


5 March 2020


19:30 - 21:30


St Anne's Soho, Dean Street, London, UK

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