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).