Sunday, September 25, 2016
Celebrating 50 years of Joe Orton's Loot in Leicester
I spent today at the New Walk museum and art gallery in Leicester for a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Joe Orton's play Loot.
The play had first gone on a provincial tour with an extraordinary cast - Kenneth Williams, Duncan Mcrae, Ian McShane, Geraldine McEwan - but had not pleased its audiences and been beset by constant rewrites in an attempt to put things right.
Williams was a friend of Orton, but it is hard to see how he could ever have made a suitable Inspector Truscott.
Loot was rescued by a new production in Manchester and two veterans of it were in Leicester today. They were its director Braham Murray and cast member Michael Elwyn.
Murray had worked closely with Orton to reshape and rewrite they play and described him as a "shy, sweet man".
The Truscott in that production was Julian Chagrin, and when I chatted to them afterwards they were suitably impressed that I knew he had been one of the tennis players in Blow-Up. (I did not reveal my debt to Nicholas Whyte's enthusiasm the Double Deckers, which led me to that knowledge.)
Jake Arnott, whose novels I have enjoyed, talked about the background to Loot and in particular the figure of Harold Challenor, the police officer who inspired Truscott.
But the star of the day was Joe Orton's sister. Leonie Orton Barnett. She read from his letters, including one attacking Loot by his creation Edna Welthorpe.
She is about to publish her own story of gaining an education and becoming her brother's champion under the suitably Ortonesque title I Had It In Me.
The cover, featuring a photograph of her as a young woman, looks like a lost Smiths' single. Which is appropriate, as Morrissey is one of many later artists who have acknowledged Joe Orton's influence.
A mention, too, for Bernard Greaves, the co-author of that Liberal classic The Theory and Practice of Community Politics. I did not get a chance to speak to him, but he spoke movingly of the experience of being gay in the era of Loot.