Joe Orton Musical

joe ortonJoe Orton And The Dark Passion Of Kenneth Halliwell

The musical production, Orton, previewed on the 2nd of April, is a vibrant, enthusiastic affair with slick choreography and tight direction from Tim McArthur. Halliwell, played by Andrew Rowney, is nerdy and neurotic, but experienced enough to show young Orton the ropes on the London gay scene in the early 1960’s. In this performance, Joe Orton, played as a cheeky chappie by Richard Dawes is oddly eclipsed by Halliwell’s character, despite the script emphasising the opposite.

To some extent the production succeeds in showing the complex dynamic of the relationship. Rowney’s Halliwell underplays the psychotic aspect of the character and personally, I needed a more daring interpretation than the mannered version seen on stage. Even so, the tragic isolation of the character towards the end of the play is very moving, so it is no surprise when he is finally driven to committing murder and suicide.

For this epic moment, Kenneth Halliwell is positioned with his back to the audience and there is no real explanation as to why he simply flops to the floor with his murder weapon, ‘unsheathed’. I felt an annoying lack of courage here, a failure to look at this catastrophic event, which is, after all, what the play is leading up to, when following an argument, Halliwell kills the sleeping Orton.

Meanwhile, the script focuses on the poisonous aspect of the relationship between the two men, and the fact that Kenneth Halliwell was the ‘going places’ whereas Joe Orton was the young lover, ‘tagging along’. The suggestion is made throughout the play that Joe Orton plagiarised his best material from Kenneth, turning it into theatrical gold. So the reversal of roles – aided and abetted by bitchy acquaintances such as Kenneth Williams – led to the pair’s tragic downfall.

The Stag theatre is a challenging space to mount any production, particularly with trains rumbling overhead. I suspect that the production managers are aiming for a snug-salon type of arrangement, but occasionally the camp, twiddly-tweeness grates, particularly when you want more insight into Orton and Halliwell’s relationship.

The song and dance numbers are well performed by a fun and professional troupe of actors. The music is well- timed, and on this particular evening the addition of percussion to Chris Huntley’s piano-keyboards, lent an ‘off- Broadway’ feel. (The guest drummer was Jojo Ruocco from New Jersey)

Verdict; Entertaining musical, good score, good script, explores the tragedy of Orton and Halliwell’s relationship, could use a touch more imagination. The tickets are fairly pricey at £18 per head.

Of especial note are performances by Valerie Cutko who plays Peggy Ramsay, (Orton’s agent), and Simon Kingsley who plays Kenneth Williams. The play was written by Richard Silver and Sean J Hume and directed by Tim McArthur. Read more book, music, and film reviews at http://newlondonwriters.com 

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