Saturday, 24 January 2009

A queer case of West End theatre a Wirral murderer and The Beatles

Heath Road, Bebington, Wirral is a comfortable suburban nest - and it is also the birth place of queer thespian and murderer Kenneth Halliwell.
Kenneth shot to posthumous notoriety after taking a hammer nine times to the head of his lover, the award winning playwright Joe Orton.
Years earlier people had predicted that Kenneth's name would be splashed across the front pages - not because he exhibited homicidal tendencies - but because he was regarded as one of RADA's most promising talents.
It was at drama school that Kenneth and Joe met and in the beginning it was Kenneth who was the star, the sophisticate and the older man to Orton's awkward, outrageous, angry outsider.
Before long the tables turned and Orton's advance on the West End was unstoppable - in 1966 Loot! won the Evening Standard Theatre Awards cementing Joe's place alongside the likes of Pinter and Stoppard - while Kenneth's career had stalled.
Holed up in a tiny bedsit close to Angel's Camden Passage the pair kept a claustrophobic joint diary that chronicled Orton's promiscuity in cruel detail, Halliwell's failing artistic endeavours, the pair's trips to north Africa and Orton's stage successes.
Editor, mentor, ball and chain, father figure, failure and muse Kenneth found he had become Joe's foil, and forgotten by the fickle theatre set he increasingly turned to prescription drugs.
Eventually, goaded by Orton, Halliwell snapped and bludgeoned his partner with a hammer before taking an overdose.
The pair were found in their Islington flat by the chauffeur who had arrived to take Orton to a meeting with The Beatles, where he was due to discuss a screenplay he had written for the band.
Kenneth left a suicide note, signing off with:
"If you read his diary all will be explained. KH. PS Especially the last part."
Kenneth's early years in Bebington tell us much about the man who would eventually become a murderer: His mother died in the most bizarre of circumstances, stung in the mouth by a wasp. A pupil at Wirral Grammar School Kenneth was a conscientious objector during the war and at the age of 20 found his father dead, with his head in the oven.
Now enjoying a revival of his work, Orton is remembered as Imelda Staunton and Mathew Horne, hot from his Gavin and Stacey Christmas special triumph, take the lead in Entertaining Mr Sloane at the Trafalgar Studios. Loot! is also onstage at The Tricycle garnering five star reviews.
And just as it always was, Kenneth is forgotten.

Orton on The Beatles screenplay which never was, as interviewed by Barry Hanson:
"I was approached to do a film script for the Beatles. I said it would have to be an absolutely original script. Paul McCartney said do whatever you like. I said that means you'll never be able to do it. He said as long as it's good, that's all right. So I did the script and I was very pleased with it and my agent was very pleased with it and she's not an easy woman to please."

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