Prick Up Your Ears – August 2009


By Simon Bent, inspired by John Lahr’s Biography and the dairies of Joe Orton

Directed by Daniel Kramer

Venue: Richmond Theatre

Date: Saturday 29th August 2009

There was an additional bit of humour for this audience only, or for most of the audience anyway. The play was about to start, with Matt Lucas as Kenneth Halliwell alone on stage, when an elderly gentleman, still to find his seat in row B, held proceedings up for a few minutes. The natives were getting restless, but with a few little expressions, a glance at his watch, and some slight head shakes, Matt had us in fits of laughter and still got us back for the actual start of the piece. Masterly. (The elderly gentleman did try for a reprise at the start of the second half, but apart from a few people snapping at him he didn’t make as much of an impact.)

Now for the set. There was an outside brick wall with two windows fronting the set before and between the acts. A road sign bottom left told us this was Noel Road, Borough of Islington, and by the end of the play a blue plaque had appeared in the middle of the wall to commemorate Joe Orton’s time there (I didn’t spot it any earlier). Once lifted, the bedroom of the flat was revealed in all its sixties splendour. The ceiling was tiled in alternating pink and yellow, like a ferocious Battenberg cake, and with a central ceiling light. The door was centre back, giving the occasional glimpse of the bathroom and access to the kitchen (off right) and front door (left). The walls were mostly bare, though behind Halliwell’s bed a collage of pictures was taking shape. This collage grew and grew, taking over the other walls, and finally the ceiling was lifted up to show another level covered with pictures. (I assume this represented the ceiling itself, as it was too tricky to replace that.) The two beds were against the back wall (Halliwell’s) and the left wall (Orton’s). There was a large stereo player to the right of the door, a mirror on the wall to the right of that, and loads of shelves and books. Near the right front was a desk with the typewriter and later the telephone. Clothes were kept on the floor or tidied away in the drawers under the beds.

The play covered the relationship between Orton and Halliwell from their early work to improve the drab lives of library book borrowers in their neighbourhood through Orton’s success and Halliwell’s increasing insecurity to the expected bloody ending. I felt the writing was sympathetic to Halliwell though not blind to his difficult temperament, and made it clear that he did contribute to Orton’s success, at least to some extent. I’ve no idea how accurate any of it was, but the play worked well on stage, all the performances were good and we had a very enjoyable afternoon.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at

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