The Visa Affair – Jake Arnott

tva(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)In 1965 Joe Orton visited the American Embassy in London to get a visa to attend the Broadway production of his outrageous West End hit ‘Entertaining Mr Sloane’ and was caught up in a Kafkaesque world of oppression and paranoia. He was forced into absurd interrogations and accused of “moral turpitude.” In the mid-1960s Orton was one of the most talked about new playwrights of the decade – even attracting the attention of the Beatles to write them a new film.

Writer Jake Arnott has uncovered a previously unpublished story by Orton about his this encounter. This story becomes the heart of a new drama, in which Arnott also draws on letters, archive, newspaper reports and personal testimony to create a darkly comic drama revealing Orton’s life and the world that he lived in.

Orton’s first commission as a playwright was from Radio 3’s predecessor the Third Programme in 1964 and this new play is part of the station’s 70th season, celebrating seven decades of pioneering music and culture.

In ‘The Visa Affair’, Orton has just found success in the UK after years of obscurity, and Broadway beckons, but events in his past threaten his American dream. As embassy staff challenge him about his criminal record we follow a labyrinthine struggle as Joe is forced to defer to authority, deny his sexuality, and to look again at his subversive acts and how they affected his writing and work.

Throughout, Orton plays a game of hide and seek with bureaucracy – evading its surveillance whilst revealing its absurdity.

Leonie Orton-Barnett, the playwright’s younger sister who oversees his literary estate, suggested Mr Arnott adapt The Visa Affair for radio.

Orton’s own narrative voice forms the heart of this drama. It is a rich source of character, dialogue and unfolding plot. Writer Jake Arnott says: “Though his work often seems surreal, Orton always insisted that what he wrote was reality. This is real. What excites me about this project is the opportunity to dramatise a hidden work: Orton’s own encounter with the kind of absurd bureaucracy that he brilliantly depicts in his plays.”

Mr Arnott, whose novels include The Long Firm, intends to add more material from letters, personal testimony and archive documents to flesh out the story. It will be his first radio play and a “huge honour”, he said

The 20-page story follows Orton’s Kafkaesque visit to the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square in 1965.

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