Pros: “A case of cock over cranium” (playwrights’ words not mine).
Cons: Perhaps a bit too much of “cock over cranium.”
Orton is a new and original musical that chronicles the relationship between playwright Joe Orton and his lover-turned-murderer Kenneth Halliwell. We are introduced to both characters on the first day they meet and follow their story until the night Halliwell bludgeons Orton to death with a hammer.
On paper this is really scary stuff and based on a story that most theatre-goers are surely now familiar with. However, playwrights Silver and Hume ensure the eventual macabre is balanced with humour, heart and rampant sex. The songs may not be memorable but they are very in the moment and provide for much audience enjoyment.
In the title role, Richard Dawes is suitably charming, crass and over sexed. He delivers the kind of camp performance that Orton would be proud of. In fact, the whole thing is suitably camp. There are cameos from Terrance Rattigan and a fabulous performance by Simon Kingsley as Kenneth Williams, who has the audience cheering and howling with laughter. Valerie Cutko, as the doomed lovers’ landlady and Orton’s agent may not have the strongest musical voice however she gives the strongest performance. She is both economic and prudent in her delivery and is very deserving of the biggest applause of the evening.
The production team have made some very creative choices in their staging. The numerous onstage doors that serve multiple functions should serve as a reminder to high budget musicals that take more pride in set pieces than advancing story lines. These onstage doors serve as toilet doors and Kenneth Halliwell’s apartment rooms amongst others. I found the excerpts from Orton’s diary plastered onto the backdrop eerie and fascinating to read and gloss over during scene changes.
I admire the spirit of everyone involved in this production. Putting together a funny musical about a tragic event in popular culture is no mean feat and here it partly succeeds. The second act goes all the way in trying to portray Halliwell as a genius in his own right consumed by jealousy and neediness. What I admire most about this aspect of the show is that the audience do not denounce Halliwell as an outright villain; rather we are given the chance to view circumstances from his point of view, thus giving us the chance to empathise with him. This is so unsettling but makes for exciting theatre.
However the first act moves at a sluggish pace. There is not a lot of emphasis placed on the passion that was to consume both men and form the basis of both their relationship and demise. There were instances of fluffed lines or dropped props but the whole show is so darn charming (talk about wearing your heart on your sleeve) that the audience do not really care and occasionally laugh along with the performer who has been momentarily caught off guard. The entire production is economically and cleverly put together. It is funny, crude, sexy, over the top, camp and sometimes outrageous however it is not quite scary enough. I got the feeling that the audience wanted to be spooked and confronted with Halliwell’s demons. His demise from passionate lover to passionate jealousy was all too quick and thus made it difficult for the audience to gain more of an insight into his character.
There are some brilliant one liners. My favourite being listed as both pro and con in this review. I also loved Halliwell’s exclamation “I’m not a sodding revolutionary, I’m just a f*****g fag who wants a f**k” These bits of dialogue ensured that the audience’s evening at the Above The Stag Theatre was riotous. Fair play to everyone involved for bringing light to such a dark tale.
Authors: Richard Silver and Sean J Hume
Director: Tim McArthur
Booking until: 9th May 2014
Booking info: http://www.abovethestag.com/shows/