Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Prick Up Your Ears by Simon Bent, Richmond Theatre, 29-Aug-2009 – Directed by Daniel Kramer

I think I was expecting more Joe Orton in this play. As far as I could see there were plenty of quotes (I suspected that Mrs Corden, although a real person, was written as a combination of characters from Orton's fiction) but I didn't think there was as much as might be expected about Orton himself.
The play is set in the bedsit that Orton and his lover/teacher/muse Kenneth Halliwell shared from 1960 to their deaths and as Halliwell spent much of his time haunting the place, not liking to go out, it might not be surprising that the play focuses on him. From the rumours that I've heard about Orton's diary (on which the play is, in part, based), it seems to detail his sexual activities which happened outside the bedsit and means that Orton in this play sometimes appears just to flit between rehearsals and random sexual encounters leaving Halliwell isolated and popping pills.
Matt Lucas is probably most impressive when he is allowed to show the tragic side of Kenneth Halliwell's nature. It feels too easy and familiar when his character is being funny perhaps because we all expect comedy from him. As this play began, a man decided that that would be the perfect time to nosily find his seat at the end of a row. This was treated with great humour by the audience (and some mild corpsing from Lucas) and it may well have made us more willing, initially, to see the comedy in Lucas's performance and
less to feel the tragedy.
The tragic thing for Halliwell was, perhaps, that he had many gifts but they only went so far and he could never focus them into crafting something great. Maybe the effects were worsened as he saw Orton coming out of his shadow and quickly outshining him. The play indicates that Halliwell was an essential inspiration to Orton's work (although it sometimes seems like Halliwell just provided titles and quotes) but that Orton was able to go further and make something of his own.

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