Theatre review: Entertaining Mr Orton
Edinburgh Festival Fringe Scotsman review: Entertaining Mr Orton at C (Venue 34), reviewed by David Pollock
“Even Freud would have difficulty penetrating you,” the inscrutable Joe Orton is told at one point. “He’s welcome to try,” responds the playwright with a purse of the lips and a wrinkle of the eyebrow. At the heart of this finely tuned play’s success is Jack Burns’s lead performance, absolutely inhabiting the laconic Orton, heavy fringe and needle-sharp twinkle of bloody-minded mischief in his eyes. Even the campness of his demeanour is subverted by the cloud of disdain orbiting him at all times.
Martin Mulgrew’s script is canny and controlled, a summation of Orton’s later months delivered in a distinctly Ortonesque style of its own, all cynicism and laughter in the face of humanity as it moves around him. The only thing he seems to retain any affection for is his growing fame and celebrity – certainly not for his partner, Kenneth Halliwell, played with a taut balance of demonstrative hissiness and internalised melancholy by Stuart Denman. Of course, Halliwell would go on to bludgeon Orton to death and kill himself, and this piece attempts to get to the bottom of one of literature’s mysteries: why did he do it?
It begins in the aftermath of the library book incident, in which the pair defaced 72 public library books in an anti-authoritarian spree, and a picture of kitchen sink banality. “I cooked you halibut,” complains Halliwell, ill-fitting wig atop his brow. “You know, in Belgium they eat mussels, chips and mayonnaise,” says Orton, disinterested. One clings to the life they have, one reaches for the exotic life he wishes to lead. Orton’s sister Leonie calls, and the growing distance is palpable as the siblings discuss their mother’s stroke.
The sadness at the heart of the piece is apparent, as Orton devilishly casts off all who care about him even as the resentment from failed artist Halliwell, which builds to their eventual death, is made clear. Yet it’s also genuinely very funny. The mystery is never solved, but this striking black comedy offers a memorable meditation about envy and ambition as it goes.
Until 17 August. Today 8:25pm
More info: Entertaining Mr Orton is at C
Originally published in The Scotsman