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Joe Orton Biography

(1933–67), The Erpingham Camp, The Bacchae, Entertaining Mr Sloane, Loot, What the Butler Saw

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Joseph O'Connor Biography to Cynthia Ozick Biography

British playwright, born in Leicester, the son of a municipal gardener; he left school to train as an actor. He wrote several lively short comedies for both the stage and television, including The Erpingham Camp (1967), a variation on Euripides' The Bacchae in which rioting holiday-makers punish the arrogant owner of a seaside camp. His only full-length plays, however, were Entertaining Mr Sloane (1964), about a genteel brother and sister who bribe and blackmail their psychopathic lodger into becoming their sexual slave; Loot (1965); and the posthumously performed What the Butler Saw (1969), about a series of farcical misunderstandings, confusions, disguises, and subterfuges in a private asylum run by an amorous psychiatrist. Although the first of these pieces is more realistic than the other two, all are black, witty, and marked by a contempt for conventional institutions and values, especially sexual values, and by an anarchic glee in their subversion of exposure as fraudulent. Orton was battered to death by his long-time companion, Kenneth Halliwell: the tragic climax of a life well described by John Lahr in the biography Prick Up Your Ears (1978).

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