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For Joe Orton: Discover the man behind the drama by National Justice Museum
1. Tell us a little about your career background and your current roles?
Dr Emma Parker: I am Associate Professor in English at the University of Leicester. My research focuses on representations of gender and sexuality in post-war literature, especially contemporary women’s writing and lesbian and gay authors. I have published several essays on Joe Orton and a 50th anniversary edition of his first stage play Entertaining Mr Sloane (Bloomsbury/Methuen Drama 2014).
Bev Baker: I am the Senior Curator & Archivist at the National Justice Museum. I have been working at the museum since 1999 and have been responsible for the development and creation of the museum’s exhibitions for the past 12 years.
2. When and what was your first introduction to Joe Orton?
Dr Emma Parker: I first read Joe Orton’s plays when I was at university. I was struggling to find an author to write about who really spoke to me. The tutor suggested Joe Orton. I went home and read the Complete Plays in one afternoon, laughing until my sides hurt.
Bev Baker: A friend introduced me to Joe Orton many years ago when we watched the film ‘Prick up Your Ears’, and I was struck by the humour and tragedy of his life.
3. How will the exhibition address the role of crime in Orton’s life and work?
The exhibition has 3 main themes: 1) the representation of crime in Orton’s plays (murder, theft, extortion, to name but a few!); 2) crimes Orton committed (the ‘defacement’ of library books with his partner Kenneth Halliwell, for which they were sentenced to 6 months in prison, and Orton’s homosexuality, which – before 1967 – made him a criminal and was the real reason he was sent to jail); 3) Orton’s murder – how it has been portrayed and shaped his reputation and legacy.
Bev Baker: In addition to Emma’s comments, we are using Orton’s background in theatre to create visual content for the exhibition that depicts the role of crime in Orton’s life. This will be achieved through working with graduates from Nottingham Trent University’s Theatre Design department to create four stage set models to depict four keys aspects of Orton’s life: the crime of defacing the library books, his trail for this crime, his subsequent imprisonment, and his tragic murder.
4. For the first time, the museum will explore the role of crime in Orton’s life and work, why do you think it’s so important to explore this aspect of Orton’s life?
Dr Emma Parker: This will be the first in-depth examination of Joe Orton and crime. It will cast new light on Orton’s life and work, as well as crime in the 1960s. The exhibition will show how Orton questions prevailing ideas about crime and justice, particularly what constitutes criminality and the romanticisation of criminals like the Great Train robbers and the Krays.
5. Do you have a favourite artefact that will be displayed in the exhibition?
Dr Emma Parker: I love Joe Orton’s scrapbooks in which he pasted good and bad reviews of his plays as well as letters of complaint. You can almost hear him laughing at those.
Bev Baker: It’s not so much a particular physical artefact, but rather the anticipation of the creative work that will be made for the exhibition, from the graduates from Nottingham Trent University; the collage being created by artist, David Lock, and the work he will be facilitating with prisoners at Lowdham Grange Prison.
6. Finally, why should people donate to this project?
Dr Emma Parker: Because 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality as well as Orton’s death and is the perfect moment to assess Orton’s achievements as a writer and his reputation as a gay icon. Also to consider how attitudes to crime and sexuality have changed over the last half-century in Britain and abroad – or not.
Bev Baker: As Emma has already mentioned, 2017 marks two key 50th anniversaries, and as such it’s an opportunity to raise awareness of the way Joe Orton was treated by the criminal justice system, like so many other homosexuals, and how he used that experience within his work. It also raises the question about how far have attitudes really changed towards sexuality.
We need your help to raise £10,000 to make this exhibition happen. Together, we can celebrate the life and work of Joe Orton and continue to ensure that his legacy lives on. Thank you!