Joe and Ken at The Old Red Lion Theatre: Press night review by Stephen Vowles 

I must confess the world of Joe Orton still holds a strong fascination for me, not in a morbid way but how he revolutionised the English stage; the same  way that John Osborne had done with his ‘kitchen sink’ dramas. 

There is still a magical mystique about Orton and Halliwell that John Dunne,  who wrote and directed Joe & Ken, has harnessed with a wonderful attention to detail; imparting facts – some known, some unusual – about the two and how their vibrant and at times troubled friendship was formed. 

The chemistry between the actors – Craig Myles who plays cheeky chappy Orton and Tino Orsini who plays Halliwell – is just fabulous. They give their respective roles an intriguing quality, although I’m assuming most people in the audience knew the story which resulted in Ken murdering Joe in a very brutal fashion on that fateful night of 9th August 1967.

Dunne is quick to get Orsini to show that Halliwell had OCD and prone to severe  mood swings. He had acute self-loathing and Dunne’s clever script shows this in both a sombre and witty way, and totally believable. You get the feeling that if Dunne had been a fly on the wall at 25 Noel Road, the home the two had in Islington, this is precisely what he would of heard. The bickering, the verbal tennis match between the two. They were both drama queens and Dunne makes good use of that fact including Orton’s biting and catty sense of humour.

Act 2 sees the action move to Tangiers where Orton’s passion for young Moroccan boys was causing Halliwell to have fits of jealous rage. Here Dunne is clever, using this section of the play to bring to the audience’s attention the fact that what they were doing in North Africa would get them prison sentences in the London of the mid-1960s. 

The pace of the play is perfect – riveting actually – as Halliwell descends further into a mire of self doubt and Orton continuously baits him. Especially about the way he would only go outside wearing the most ridiculous wig and the fact that Orton was now bringing in the serious money and Halliwell should just accept the fact that he would be no more that his assistant.

 Joe & Ken is also part history lesson, as Orton was by now revelling in his celebrity, mixing with likes of The Beatles (he was working on a screenplay for them) and royal fans such as Princess Margaret. Dunne highlights the fact that Orton no longer behaved rationally. Out to cause mischief and mayhem at any chance which fuelled his addiction to gents toilets, to going cottaging. To be respectable was no longer on Joe’s agenda. Act 2 of Joe & Ken has a very clear poetic quality to it and the verbal value is high and the richness of the words is stunning. This is informed storytelling and well worth a view. 

Photos: Will Haddington


Joe and Ken runs to Saturday 30th October at the Old Red Lion Theatre, 418 St John Street, EC1V 4NJ. Box office: 020 7837 7816

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