British playwright Joe Orton, on August 10, 1967, had his brains bashed out with a hammer wielded by his lover, Kenneth Halliwell. Halliwell then swallowed 22 sleeping pills and killed himself. I bring up these facts because Orton’s plays, with their violence and sex and contempt for authority, foreshadow Orton’s grim end. I read The Complete Plays because of a review of “What the Butler Saw” by Terry Teachout in the Wall Street Journal. For the 1960s, Joe Orton plays were Hot Stuff. Swearing, sex, mayhem, and railing against morality and religion. But Time has not been kind to these plays. The best ones, “Loot” and “What the Butler Saw,” resemble screwball comedies with wacky characters and dizzy plots. The other plays were a slog. If you’re interested in British drama from 50 years ago, Orton shows you what was trendy back then. GRADE: C
Introduction by John Lahr
The ruffian on the stair
Entertaining Mr. Sloane
The good and faithful servant
The Erpingham camp
Funeral games
What the butler saw.

11 thoughts on “THE COMPLETE PLAYS By Joe Orton

  1. Steve Oerkfitz

    Never seen a Orton play. Did see the movie about him, Prick Up Your Ears, starring Gary Oldman and Alfred Molina.

    1. george Post author

      Patti, given what I’ve read in THE COMPLETE PLAYS I don’t think you’ll see many Orton plays being performed today. Maybe by a College theater department.

  2. Deb

    I came here to recommend PRICK UP YOUR EARS, both the book (by John Lahr, iirc) and the movie, but Steve beat me to it. I’d say that Orton was very much a product of a particular time and place—and his plays were interesting as a reflection of a time just on the verge of the gay rights movement, but they haven’t held up so well because a play with gay characters just isn’t groundbreaking anymore.

  3. Jeff Meyerson

    Yes, PRICK UP YOUR EARS is worth reading,..and seeing.

    We’ve actually seen a couple of his plays. First was the (misnamed) sick ENTERTAINING MR. SLOANE (in London). Definitely not the one to see, despite Beryl Reid and Malcolm McDowell. Jackie swore off him after that, but years later we saw LOOT, with Alec Baldwin in his Broadway debut, Charles Keating (then in Jackie’s favorite soap opera), and Zoe Wanamaker.

  4. Bill Kelly

    I saw LOOT and WHAT THE BUTLER SAW in NYC Off Off Broadway venues in the 1970s and they were an absolute hoot! Unlike many plays they also make for good reads.


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