A stony silence filled the air at the end of act one of Joe & Ken at The Old Red Lion Theatre, Islington, the old stomping ground of the eponymous couple who lived just down the road. No one was moved to clap and the tension was broken only by the request to leave the upstairs room so that 25 Noel Road might be transformed into the holiday flat in Tangiers for act two.
There is nothing new or revelatory here.
The difference in the settings was negligible, but imagination can work wonders. While the conversation changed from trolling London’s toilets to banging compliant rent boys in Morocco, the bickering, arguing and tedium of a shared existence remained as claustrophobic as ever. Living together was never easy for Joe Orton (Craig Myles) and Kenneth Halliwell (Tino Orsini). As Orton’s career flourished and he achieved celebrity status, Halliwell’s insignificance as a writer increased and he became more of a social recluse and embarrassment. His mental health deteriorated and his dependence on prescription drugs rose. Ultimately, overcome with envy and marginalisation he ended both their lives in one of the most dramatic scenes he ever created. The hammer is poignantly on the table from the outset. Halliwell can't even successfully use it to stick a nail in the wall to hang a picture. He failed at everything, except in delivering the blows that cut Orton down in his prime.
There is often a problem with retelling well-known biographies and probably everyone seeing this production knows only too well all that has been written about Orton and Halliwell. Writer/director John Dunne, for JD Productions, has created some contrived role-playing scenes; games that the boys play to relieve the monotony of their existence and that try to inspire some creativity in Halliwell for a play about their lives. There is nothing new or revelatory here, with well-known events rather painfuly woven into the text. Myles and Orsini rattle off lines that seem to carry little conviction and some hesitancy at times, even eight days into the run. Direct addresses to the audience pop up, but seem strangely out of place as does the finale. Orton goes for a walk, leaving Halliwell by himself. Then, in a complete disconnect from that scene, Orsini, in something of an epilogue, tells in the first person how Halliwell ended both their lives and the play is over.
Joe & Ken is disappointingly dull and certainly wouldn't entertain Mr. Sloane.