LifeLikeTheatre brings the Orton Diaries to the stage at Rialto Theatre, Brighton and attempts to explore the final months of Orton’s life at the height of the swinging sixties. The play centres around the exciting and salacious life of Joe Orton and his relationship with Kennith Halliwell. Such a subject matter promises so much and despite stellar acting, the play suffers from some odd staging choices and disappointingly tame approach.
Diary... has a good cast and a good story to tell but it doesn’t utilize its potential.
The acting is by far the strongest part of the show with strong performances from the whole cast. Sharon Drain does wonderfully with the imaginary theatre snob Edna Welthorpe and every appearance of Cosmo Ranna-Lozzi as Kennith Williams brings a chuckle. However, the majority of the play revolves around the relationship between Joe Orton and Kennith Halliwell, played by Trefor Lavins and Paul Marten respectively. I cannot fault their acting as they do great with what they are given, but they don’t have much to work with. Halliwell is reduced to incessant whining and their relationship never develops or changes from the first scene to the last.
The audience never really has an understanding of their relationship. Obviously, their relationship was awful as (spoilers) Haliwell murdered Orton in real life. However, if these characters had different names you probably would have no idea that the two were in a relationship at all until an hour or so in. They make no reference to it and the first physical contact they make is to fight at the end of act one and the sole moment of affection comes during one scene in act two where Orton places his head and hand on Halliwell’s shoulder. They have an argument about how unappreciated Halliwell feels, a few scenes go past where we hear about Orton’s sex life and fame then the same argument occurs. Even if they physically fight, we never see a moment where they forgive each other or show any reason why they would remain as a couple. You never see them meet or why they fell in together. You're almost just waiting for Halliwell to kill him. They begin hateful and miserable and they end hateful and miserable for the same reasons.
The show is rated adults-only and with it being about someone as scandalous as Joe Orton, that promises a sense of shock, promiscuity and excitement. Disappointingly, on stage Joe describes his sexual ventures in a rather typical and bland way and does not do justice to the character by taking no risks and coming across a bit timid. After a while, it feels sexless. You are just being told these stories by a character who claims to hunger for promiscuity in his life and yet it comes across as that bragging guy who says he does ait all but with no proof. Of course, I do not suggest an orgy on stage, but Orton doesn’t as much as peck another character on the cheek.
Diary of a Somebody has a good cast and a good story to tell but it doesn’t utilize its potential. It doesn’t really want to face Orton’s life, it dabbles with scenes about his fame and work but they are never fully explored and feel like filler. The relationship with Haliwell becomes repetitive and tired as all we see is the same argument about Kennith feeling underappreciated, under-acknowledged and depressed multiple times. You could even mistake Halliwell for a disgruntled roommate or coworker for most of the first act. You won’t be thrilled, shocked or marvelled by Diary. It has moving moments and good humour but the core of the play, Orton and Haliwell’s relationship, is poorly written and you can sense that it is a rather ‘safe’ director’s debut.