Ronald might come as a surprise to many

Bryden labelled Joe Orton as ‘the Oscar Wilde of Welfare State gentility’ (Smith 1999: 97), whose work is argued
to have great influence of the formation of ‘a form of drama which came to be
known as Black Comedy’ (Levinson 1977:
iii). In today’s society, Joe Orton is considered to be one of the greatest
playwrights of modern theatre, however, in Post War Britain, he was not. Many
critics did not pay much attention to Orton, perhaps because he was an openly
gay man (which was illegal in Orton’s society), or that they ‘regarded him as
amusing, but somewhat a trivial playwright “who outdid all his contemporaries
in offending the traditional West End audience”‘ (Levinson 1977: 1). However, many critics have counter argued this,
for example Bernard Greaves who said that ‘The impact of his plays was
enormous… Orton put on stage the reality of what it was like for us
homosexuals in an unvarnished way’ (BBC
News 2017), showing that Orton was giving the gay community a voice through
the use of theatre. Orton’s own sister,
Ms Orton Barnett, has praised Orton at how open he was about his sexuality and
how it had helped ‘bring a lot of people out (BBC News 2017).

Charney has disregarded the views of critics who did not believe in Joe Orton,
and has said that ‘His growing popularity might come as a surprise to many
critics and reviewers, who thought of him as a slickly clever, commercial
dramatist’ (Charney 1984: 131). Kwath
Fraser praises Orton on his achievements stating that ‘Within four years he
wrote seven plays for which he was acclaimed, financially rewarded, condemned’ (Fraser 1972 – Journal). A response to this could be Orton’s
harshest critics of all, his alter ego, Edna Welthorpe. ‘Welthorpe’ was created
to make people talk about Orton and his black comedy plays and he thoroughly succeeded.
Welthorpe wrote, ‘I saw LOOT with my young niece. We both fled from the theatre
in horror and amazement well before the end. I could see no humour in it’ (Joe Orton n.d.). Although Edna
Welthorpe was not a theatre critic, Orton knew that having such harsh reviews
on his shows would get people talking which would generate a bigger audience.

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Russell Taylor is an example of many critics who had a changing opinion. At
first, he agreed with the majority of critics in that they did not like Orton’s
work; Taylor titled Entertaining Mr
Sloane as ‘commercial’ and that it ‘it will not go in the… theatre today’ (Coppa 2003: 88). Six years after this,
however, the same critic had said, ‘In all the history of the New Drama in
Britain there is no career more spectacular, and alas none briefer, than that
of Joe Orton’ (Taylor 1971: 125). Taylor
is one example of many whose critical opinion has shifted. Orton’s plays were
no doubt autobiographical which is seen through readings of his own diaries and
letters, showing his hatred for the society he was living in, causing
controversy with critics.