Letters from Peggy Ramsay on Joe Orton's Loot

Description

Joe Orton insisted that his scandalous black comedies must be played straight and performed with ‘absolute realism’. In these letters, Orton’s agent, Peggy Ramsay, fights his corner regarding productions and criticisms of Loot (1965; 1966).

In the first letter from 1965, written during Loot’s first run, Ramsay is ‘alarmed’ to hear that producer Michael Codron plans to ‘prepare’ the audience for the character of Inspector Truscott, i.e. explaining the basis of the character. She writes:

The whole essence of a Joe Orton talent is the surprise, the dottiness and inconsequence of most of the remarks. If everything is going to be ‘prepared’ we get an old fashioned, certain number-two tour laugh – no surprise, no modern voice, just a regular old fashioned farce approach. (f. 2r)

She continues, ‘Please try and preserve Joe’s voice, and don’t play safe and explain everything’ (f. 3r) and ends by advising Codron that ‘We need to work a lot, but not in making the play more conventional, more banal, or more cosy’ (ff. 2v–3r).

In the second and third letters, written over 15 years after Orton’s death, Ramsay continues to defend Orton’s work against ‘farcical’ interpretations. She is responding to comments by Giles Gordon regarding the 1966 London production of Loot, as well as an American production: ‘Whoever has done the play since 1966 has been told that they must play it straight’ (f. 112r) – ‘it is disastrous if one [tries to make it funny]’ (f. 155r).

Full title:
Peggy Ramsay letters
Created:
10 February 1965; 21 March 1983; 6 April 1983, London
Format:
Manuscript / Typescript / Letter / Ephemera
Creator:
Peggy Ramsay
Usage terms

© All rights reserved Peggy Ramsay Foundation. You may not use the material for commercial purposes. Please credit the copyright holder when reusing this work.

Held by
British Library
Shelfmark:
Add MS 88915/1/168/3

Related articles

A close reading of Loot

Article by:
Emma Parker
Themes:
Gender and sexuality, 20th-century theatre, Exploring identity

Joe Orton was a working-class, gay playwright whose outrageous black comedies scandalised theatre audiences in the 1960s. Emma Parker examines Orton’s satire on social and sexual convention by showing how the opening of Loot establishes the play’s central themes and dramatic techniques.

Edited extracts from Leonie Orton’s memoir, I Had It In Me

Article by:
Themes:
Gender and sexuality, 20th-century theatre, Exploring identity

In these edited extracts from her memoir, Leonie Orton, sister of playwright Joe Orton, provides a vivid account of growing up in the Orton household in Leicester and her relationship with Joe.

Related collection items

Related people

Related works

Loot

Created by: Joe Orton

Loot (1965) overview With his 1965 play Loot, Joe Orton ‘extended the boundaries of farce by taking it out of ...