Joe Orton’s promising career as one of the freshest and most original British playwrights to emerge during the 1960’s was cut short by his brutal murder in 1967. Although he had written a radio play, The Ruffian on the Stair (pr. 1964), Entertaining Mr. Sloane was Orton’s first theatrical production, and it won for its young author both acclaim and a degree of notoriety as audiences and critics responded to its irreverent savaging of suburban morality.
Orton himself delighted in the controversy, having intended from the start to break through traditional notions of propriety in his work and provide his audiences with an entertaining yet scathing view of the foibles of the bourgeoisie. It was an intention he would continue to pursue in Loot (pr. 1965) and What the Butler Saw, which was produced posthumously in 1969. Both of those plays share Entertaining Mr. Sloane’s black humor, boisterous energy, and bracing disregard for the cautious limits of good taste. Orton’s work now seems both a shaping force and a natural outgrowth of the social upheavals that characterized the 1960’s. It is fitting that one of his unrealized projects was a screenplay for the Beatles, who were revolutionizing pop music in much the same way that Orton was changing the tone of British theater. The road he chose was not an easy one. As he noted in a 1967 interview:I’m a success because I’ve taken a hatchet to them and hacked my way in. I mean it wasn’t easy. . . . It’s always a fight for an original writer because any original writer will always force the world to see the world his way. The people who don’t want to see the world your way will always be angry.
That his plays retain their ability to shock and anger his targets is proof of the truth of Orton’s words; that the plays remain true in their aim and entertaining in their execution is proof of his exceptional talent.