Leicester academic revives Joe Orton’s mischievous alter ego ‘Mrs Edna Welthorpe’
Issued by the University of Leicester Press Office on 16 March 2017
Image from the Curve theatre of the cast of What the Butler Saw available here (Credit: Catherine Ashmore): https://www.dropbox.com/sh/gnyazfa27e6o5ts/AACCEnN738JM6CROtonSvB3xa?dl=0
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 University of Leicester 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.
Having complained about Orton’s previous plays Entertaining Mr Sloane and Loot the 1960s, ‘Edna’ now wrote: ‘Nevermind what the butler saw. I saw the same nasty characters engaged in the same lurid shenanigans.’
She continued: ‘As a citizen and an erstwhile taxpayer, it’s my duty to insist that public money be spent on decent, family entertainment not a depraved drama about sexual irregularity. There’s enough of that in Holby City.’
Alluding to the discovery of Richard III, when director Nikolai Foster posted the letter online, one tweeter commented: ‘The ghost of Edna Welthorpe has been aroused..was she under a car park, too?’
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.”
She added: “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.
Read the article in The Stage here: https://www.thestage.co.uk/opinion/tabard/2017/diary-ortons-message-beyond-grave-ban-filth/
Find out about the original Edna Welthorpe letters here: http://www.joeorton.org/Pages/Joe_Orton_Life9.html
Further information about the Joe Orton Collection can be found here: http://www2.le.ac.uk/library/find/specialcollections/specialcollections/joe-orton-collection
For further information/interviews, contact:
Dr Emma Parker: firstname.lastname@example.org