Prick Up Your Ears – J. Lahr

PUYE 2(We have not discussed this in the group but I rereasd this play in preparation for our November 2015 meeting when we shall be discussing Orton’s diaries and this review is in a personal capacity.)

In his teens, Orton is befriended by the older, more reserved Kenneth Halliwell, and while the two begin a relationship, it’s fairly obvious that it’s not all about sex. Orton loves the dangers of bath-houses and liaisons in public restrooms; Halliwell, not as charming or attractive as Orton, doesn’t fare so well in those environs. While both long to become writers, it is Orton who achieves fame – his plays “Entertaining Mr. Sloane” and “Loot” become huge hits in London of the sixties, and he’s even commissioned to write a screenplay for the Beatles.

As Orton’s fame skyrocketed, Halliwell never achieves much of anything and this causes friction in the relationship. The years of Orton’s sexual promiscuity in bathhouses, his fame, and Halliwells shortcomings come to a head one night for him when Orton says he wants to leave him. This pushes Halliwell over the edge and leads to the demise of both of them.

Lahr chronicles Orton’s working-class childhood and stage struck adolescence, the scandals and disasters of his early professional years, and the brief, glittering success of his blistering comedies,

Joe Orton’s plays scandalised and delighted the public. The indecisive loyalty to a friend caused his tragic and untimely death. ‘I have high hopes of dying in my prime,’ Joe Orton confided to his diary in July, 1967. Less than one month later, Britain’s most promising comic playwright was murdered by his lover in the London flat they had shared for fifteen years.

I wasn’t aware, until very recently, that the title was an anagram – ‘ears’ = ‘arse’.

Quotations:

I lived in a normal family. I had no love for my father. Joe Orton, What the Butler Saw

Joe Orton: I always wanted to be an orphan. I could have, if it wasn’t for my parents.

Kenneth Halliwell: I can’t remember when you last touched my cock. Well, I can actually. It was about two years ago. Only I can’t remember the actual date. Pity. I could have put it in my diary. “The last time Joe touched my cock. Grouse shooting begins”

Kenneth Halliwell: I just want to go to the awards! I could! Look, “Joe Orton and guest.” I’d behave. I wouldn’t say a word, I promise.

Joe Orton: No.

Kenneth Halliwell: Why?

Joe Orton: Because it’s for me. I wrote it.

Kenneth Halliwell: I gave you the title.

Joe Orton: Okay, so when they have awards for titles, you can go to that.

PUYEPeggy Ramsay: Prison gives a writer credentials.

John Lahr: Everyone else, it takes them away.

Kenneth Halliwell: The whole point about irrational behaviour is that it IS irrational!

Kenneth Halliwell: Can you spell?

Joe Orton: Yes, but not accurately.

Leonie Orton: [Mingling Joe’s and Ken’s ashes] I think I’m putting in more of Joe than I am of Kenneth.

Peggy Ramsay: It’s a gesture dear, not a recipe.

Kenneth Halliwell: Do you want the sardines with the rice pudding or separate?

Joe Orton: With.

Kenneth Halliwell: [preparing to dictate an offensive letter] Seat yourself at our trusty Remington, John, and we shall piss on this person from a great height.

[Halliwell puts his hand on Orton’s leg. Orton brushes it off] Joe Orton: No. Have a wank.

Kenneth Halliwell: Have a wank? Have a wank? I can’t just have a wank. I need three days’ notice to have a wank. You can just stand there and do it. Me, it’s like organizing D-Day. Forces have to be assembled, magazines bought, the past dredged for some suitably unsavoury episode, the dog-eared thought of which can still produce a faint flicker of desire! Have a wank, it’d be easier to raise the Titanic.

Kenneth Halliwell: Cheap clothes suit you. It’s because you’re from the gutter.

Kenneth Halliwell: At least you can say you’ve sat in the same chair as T.S. Eliot.

Joe Orton: Yes, I’m never going to wipe my bum again.

Mrs. Sugden: Do you notice I’m limping? Spilled a hot drink down my dress. My vagina came up like a football.

Joe Orton: Some of these people are, well, having sexual intercourse.

Kenneth Halliwell: Fucking, you mean? Well, what do you expect? Many of them are from Australia.

Kenneth Halliwell: Writing, John, is one tenth inspiration, nine tenths…

Joe Orton: Masturbation!

Peggy Ramsay: Ken was the first wife. He did all the work and the waiting and then…

John Lahr: Well, first wives don’t usually beat their husbands’ heads in.

Peggy Ramsay: No. Though why I can’t think.

John Lahr: So what does that make you? The second wife?

Peggy Ramsay: Better than that, dear. The widow.

Joe Orton: [Ken and Joe are cruising a strange man] He’s built like a brick shithouse!

Kenneth Halliwell: He’s probably a policeman.

Joe Orton: I know, isn’t it wonderful?

Joe Orton: Have you been reading my diary?

Kenneth Halliwell: No.

Joe Orton: Why not? I would.

Peggy Ramsay: At moments of triumph, men can do without their wives… But sharing is what wives want.

Joe Orton: [accepting a drama award] My plays are about getting away with it, and the ones who get away with it are the guilty ones. It’s the innocents who get it in the neck. But that all seems pretty true to life to me. Not a fantasy at all. I’ve got away with it *so far* [hoisting trophy] and I’m going to go on.

Joe Orton: I think I’ll retire. Lick my wounds. Or have them licked for me.

[Orton is having his portrait painted, naked] Joe Orton: When I die I want people to say, ‘He was the most perfectly developed playwright of his day.’

[Paul McCartney is going to visit and Joe and Kenneth are tidying frantically] Kenneth Halliwell: This is what it must be like when one meets the Queen!

Joe Orton: Except when one meets the Queen one *generally* hasn’t threatened to shove one’s typewriter up her arse.

Counsil: [at Joe and Kenneth’s trial] This is the novel “Clouds of Witness” by the noted authoress Dorothy L. Sayers. Could you read what the accused have written on the flap of the jacket?

Policeman: “When little Betty McDree says that she has been interfered with, her mother at first laughs. It is only something the kiddy has picked up off the television. But when, on sorting through the laundry, Mrs McDree discovers that a new pair of Betty’s knickers are missing, she thinks again. Her mother takes little Betty to the police station and, to everyone’s surprise, the little girl identifies PC Brenda Coolidge as her attacker. A search is made of the Women’s Police Barracks. What is found there is a seven-inch phallus and a pair of knickers of the kind used by Betty. All looks black for kindly PC Coolidge. What can she do? This is one of the most enthralling stories ever written by Miss Sayers. Read this behind closed doors…” [He pauses, embarrassed] “… And have a good shit while you are reading.”

Joe Orton: I take it they [the Beatles] all sleep together…

Brian Epstein: They do NOT.

Joe Orton: But they’re all very pretty. I imagined they just had a good time… sang, smoked, fucked everything in sight including each other. I thought that was what success meant.

Anther’s Mother: [Translating the shorthand from Joe’s diary] Then went into mum’s bedroom and arranged the dressing table mirrors and had a lovely long slow, wink.

Anthea Lahr: Wink? Are you sure that’s an ‘I’?

Joe Orton: [Accepting the Evening Standard award] My plays are about getting away with it and the ones who get away with it are the guilty, it’s the innocents who get it in the neck. That all seems pretty true to life to me, not a fantasy at all. I’ve, got away with it so far, and I’m going to go on. Thank You.

Kenneth Halliwell: [yelling at Orton, who is deep in slumber] Joe! You do everything better than me! You even sleep better than me!

As he was leaving…he said, “Next time, can I bring my friend?”

And I thought, does he mean “friend”? Which was quite bold in those days.

It was the Dark Ages. Men and men. And they could still put you in prison for it.

And they did, dear.

Bollock naked?

No, keep your socks on.

London was still quite exciting then. Remember that? No, you wouldn’t.

You’re in good shape.

It’s the weights.

“And what sort of day have you had, Kenneth?”

Well, not unproductive, Joe, actually. I caught up on a big backlog of dusting.               Then I went down the road to replenish our stock of corn flakes. When I returned, I rinsed a selection of your soiled underclothes… by which time it was the hour of your scheduled return. When you failed to come, I redeemed the shining hour by cutting my toenails. What did you expect me to do? Shag the Dimplex? Actually, I just want to get out of this fucking room.

I’d better have my Valium now. Give us a couple.

His first taste of sex, or the first that he records… took place in a cinema lavatory in Leicester at the age of   .Joe says he came all down the man’s raincoat.

Mozart was dead by the time he was my age.

I’m not even young anymore.

What about me?

You never were.

I can’t see how we are ever going to make our mark…defacing library books.

You didn’t tell me one of them was a nancy.

I’m sorry, Mr. Cunliffe?

A homosexual. A shirtlifter.

Tell me about your father.

There’s nothing to tell. I was   …I came down one morning and found him with his head in the gas oven.

You called the ambulance, naturally?

Oh, eventually. I made a cup of tea first. He was quite plainly dead.

You weren’t fond of him.

Not particularly.

You’re fond of your roommate.
We’re everything to one another.
Sleep together, do you?

No..but we have sex.

Are you sure?

Yes.

You don’t mean you want to have sex?

No, we do.

But your friend’s not like that, is he? He’s married, he’s got a child.

So you’re surprised, are you?

Not really.

This may come as a shock to you…but I suspect your friend…may be homosexual.

Jesus! And there I am, sleeping in the same room with him.

You mentioned your wife. Where is she now?

The last I heard, she’d taken the kid to Lyme Regis.

Try and team up with them again. Make a fresh start.

Not too Spartan, is it?

On the contrary, a room of one’s own. Prison gives a writer credentials. Everyone else, it takes them away.

It was the first time in   years they’d been split up.

Having it sucked regularly is turning you back into a human being.

Kenneth Halliwell: At least you can say you’ve sat in the same chair as T.S. Eliot.

Joe Orton: Yes, I’m never going to wipe my bum again.

Joe Orton: Some of these people are, well, having sexual intercourse.

Kenneth Halliwell:
Fucking, you mean? Well, what do you expect? Many of them are from Australia.

Peggy Ramsay: Ken was the first wife. He did all the work and the waiting and then…

John Lahr: Well, first wives don’t usually beat their husbands’ heads in.

Peggy Ramsay: No. Though why I can’t think.

John Lahr: So what does that make you? The second wife?

Peggy Ramsay: Better than that, dear. The widow.

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