Academic revives Joe Orton’s mischievous alter ego ‘Mrs Edna Welthorpe’
To mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Leicester-born playwright Joe Orton, Curve is currently staging a major production of his final play What the Butler Saw (3-18 March) starring Rufus Hound, Catherine Russell, Jasper Britton, Dakota Blue Richards, Jack Holden and Ravi Aujla.
Dr Emma Parker of the School of Arts prepared information boards for the foyer of the theatre using material from the University’s Joe Orton Collection, contributed an essay to the programme and joined the cast in post-performance discussion chaired by director Nikolai Foster on Tuesday.
However, Dr Parker has also contributed to the production in a less formal way. Adopting the pseudonym that Orton used to write spoof letters of complaint satirising snobbery and moral conservatism, she wrote as ‘Mrs Edna Welthorpe’ to remonstrate with the director about the play’s revival.
The new Edna letter prompted a range of responses including ‘Absolutely brilliant’ and ‘I hope she writes in again. Still chuckling’. It was even reported in The Stage, the world's longest-running publication for the performing arts industry: “Here’s hoping she strikes again.”
Dr Parker said: “The laughter prompted by the opinions of Edna Welthorpe today suggest that theatre audiences have changed since the 1960s, when Edna’s conservative views represented the majority.”
“However, the fact that not everyone realised the Edna letter was a joke also indicates that there are still many Edna Welthorpes in the world. This, in turn, shows that Orton’s satire on social and sexual inequality remains relevant today."
What the Butler Saw is on at Curve until 18 March and transfers to Theatre Royal, Bath, 27 March – 1 April.