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A Queer Ear: Joe Orton and Music
journal contributionposted on 31.01.2018, 14:43 by Emma Parker
Rebel playwright Joe Orton was part of the landscape of the Swinging Sixties. Irreverent black comedies that satirised the Establishment, such as Entertaining Mr Sloane (1964), Loot (1965) and What the Butler Saw (first performed in 1969), contributed to a new counterculture. Orton’s representation of same-sex desire on stage, and candid account of queer life before decriminalisation in his posthumously published diaries, also made him a gay icon. Part of the zeitgeist, he was photographed with Twiggy, smoked marijuana with Paul McCartney and wrote a screenplay for The Beatles. Described by biographer John Lahr as a ‘cool customer’, Orton shopped for clothes on Carnaby Street, wore ‘hipster pants’ and looked – in his own words – ‘way out’. Although he cast himself as an iconoclast, Emma Parker suggests that Orton’s record collection reveals a different side to the ruffian playwright who furiously pitched himself against polite society. The music that Orton listened to in private suggests the same queer ear, or homosexual sensibility, that shaped his plays. Yet, stylistically, this music contradicts his cool public persona and reputation for riotous dissent.