Orton – Fallen Angel Review – Hope Street Theatre, Liverpool

Orton Fallen Angel
Image Source: Grin Theatre

Show: Orton – Fallen Angel
Location: Hope Street Theatre, Liverpool
Date: Tuesday November 30 2021
Time: 20.00
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Age Rating: 18+

This is our theatre review for Orton – Fallen Angel at Liverpool‘s Hope Street Theatre. So, let’s take a look at Orton – Fallen Angel!

Orton – Fallen Angel

Background

This new play from Grin Theatre Company re-imagines the turbulent relationship between the iconic gay writer Joe Orton and his partner Kenneth Halliwell.

Based on true events and incidents the play explores their lives together and what eventually tore them apart. Their love affair had a vicious life of it’s own that led to an act of violence that no one could have predicted.

The play includes very strong language, scenes of a sexual nature, nudity, moderate violence and references to suicide and mental health.

Analysis

Orton: The Fallen Angel was sold out by October 13th, the play was showing on the 30th November. Now if that isn’t a good sign I don’t know what is. I’ll be honest I didn’t really know too much of Joe Orton or his works before seeing this show. I’d heard his name and of Entertaining Mr Sloane, but that was about it. Not that I know more now, as this play wasn’t about Mr Orton or his short-lived but successful career. It was about the relationship between him and Kenneth Halliwell, an arduous and toxic relationship at best. 

Terence Conchie played the part of Joe Orton tremendously well. Almost too well in fact. There were times when I loathed his actions. Sneering and egotistical traits were played with ease. Ortons ability to shock and to speak about homosexuality so graphically were construed well. Audible gasps being heard from the audience on more than one occasion, when Conchie was describing Orton’s sexual flavours and conquests. There is no getting away from this. This is a graphic play. It’s full-on, but it’s mostly needed. We need to understand Joe; his quirks; his turn ons; the essence of what made him tick. The graphic scenes and strong language play their part in that.

There was one scene which I’m not sure was needed or not. I’m debating about it back and forth and can’t make up my mind. It’s a scene where Illingworth undresses on stage and is brought forward as Conchie is describing the male form and homosexuality so frankly and honestly, which makes us as an audience connect with his psyche. Conchie admires the male form in relation to the naked body almost like a Powerpoint presentation and then turns Illingworth around to present us with a full frontal. I’m still not certain whether the full extent of this scene was in fact needed. I understand the premise of it’s requirement, however, it still leaves a suspicion as to whether it was at least, in part, to shock further. Which, in essence, was Orton’s MO. 

Kenneth Halliwell was played by Christopher Hogan. Another excellent casting. Hogan made an excellent Halliwell. Played with grace, despair, infatuation and jealousy. We discover the ups and downs of their relationship. It’s mostly down. It isn’t a healthy relationship by any stretch of the imagination. Turmoil, hatred and jealousy take over and we discover the extent of Halliwell’s mental state complete with his need for antidepressants. Halliewell battles with ‘The Voice’ on several occasions. The voice finally takes over in a graphic scene where Orton finally succumbs to his death. Conchie and Halliwell’s relationship onstage is not only believable but utterly convincing. 

The set was minimal, props sparse and lighting basic. The right decision in my opinion. The script is word-heavy. Not in a bad way, but there’s alot to tell. With the lack of distraction a flamboyant set could provide, you hone in on the actors, the gripping story and the emotional portrayal of both Halliwell and Orton. Light relief is brought by Taylor Illingworth and Keegan Dixon. You don’t realise it’s needed but it really is. I would just like to add here that Illingworth and Dixon, although making up the entirety of the ‘ensemble’, were just as important as the two main ‘principles’.  They added light relief with Dixon playing the deplorable Edna Welthorpe and Illingworth playing many of Orton’s conquests and the derobed man in the aforementioned scene. This cast was strong and all stood out equally. 

The whole play is paced well, although some scenes could do with editing and tightening up. They seemed a little long at times. 90 minutes is quite a time without an interval but I feel a break would interrupt the pace of the show, so I’m not quite sure what the answer is here. 

Hope St Theatre is a great venue, but also awkward when people start to peel off for loo breaks etc. This was quite disturbing at times and so were people on their phones, but I have a whole other opinion on theatre etiquette and now is not the time for it.

Summary

Orton: Fallen Angel is a superbly written and well delivered portrayal of Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell’s relationship. It explores the toxic and turbulent levels a relationship can reach, complete with its morbid demise. A sterling effort from a clearly capable cast and company. I can’t wait to see what else they have in store. Don’t miss out when this play comes to the Liverpool Epstein Theatre in January 2022!

Notes

Target Audience: 18+
Content: Very strong language, scenes of a sexual nature, nudity, moderate violence and references to suicide and mental health
Recommendation?: Yes

Overall Rating: 9/10 Outstanding

Did you see Orton – Fallen Angel? Let us know by leaving a comment below! You can book tickets to see this show at Liverpool’s Epstein Theatre here for it’s 3 day run in January 2022.