Ronald might come as a surprise to many

RonaldBryden labelled Joe Orton as ‘the Oscar Wilde of Welfare State gentility’ (Smith 1999: 97), whose work is arguedto have great influence of the formation of ‘a form of drama which came to beknown as Black Comedy’ (Levinson 1977:iii). In today’s society, Joe Orton is considered to be one of the greatestplaywrights of modern theatre, however, in Post War Britain, he was not. Manycritics did not pay much attention to Orton, perhaps because he was an openlygay man (which was illegal in Orton’s society), or that they ‘regarded him asamusing, but somewhat a trivial playwright “who outdid all his contemporariesin offending the traditional West End audience”‘ (Levinson 1977: 1). However, many critics have counter argued this,for example Bernard Greaves who said that ‘The impact of his plays wasenormous… Orton put on stage the reality of what it was like for ushomosexuals in an unvarnished way’ (BBCNews 2017), showing that Orton was giving the gay community a voice throughthe use of theatre. Orton’s own sister,Ms Orton Barnett, has praised Orton at how open he was about his sexuality andhow it had helped ‘bring a lot of people out (BBC News 2017). MauriceCharney has disregarded the views of critics who did not believe in Joe Orton,and has said that ‘His growing popularity might come as a surprise to manycritics and reviewers, who thought of him as a slickly clever, commercialdramatist’ (Charney 1984: 131). KwathFraser praises Orton on his achievements stating that ‘Within four years hewrote seven plays for which he was acclaimed, financially rewarded, condemned’ (Fraser 1972 – Journal). A response to this could be Orton’sharshest critics of all, his alter ego, Edna Welthorpe.

‘Welthorpe’ was createdto make people talk about Orton and his black comedy plays and he thoroughly succeeded.Welthorpe wrote, ‘I saw LOOT with my young niece. We both fled from the theatrein horror and amazement well before the end.

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I could see no humour in it’ (Joe Orton n.d.). Although EdnaWelthorpe was not a theatre critic, Orton knew that having such harsh reviewson his shows would get people talking which would generate a bigger audience.JohnRussell Taylor is an example of many critics who had a changing opinion. Atfirst, he agreed with the majority of critics in that they did not like Orton’swork; Taylor titled Entertaining MrSloane as ‘commercial’ and that it ‘it will not go in the… theatre today’ (Coppa 2003: 88).

Six years after this,however, the same critic had said, ‘In all the history of the New Drama inBritain there is no career more spectacular, and alas none briefer, than thatof Joe Orton’ (Taylor 1971: 125). Tayloris one example of many whose critical opinion has shifted. Orton’s plays wereno doubt autobiographical which is seen through readings of his own diaries andletters, showing his hatred for the society he was living in, causingcontroversy with critics.


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