joe orton reading comprehensionJoe Orton was a famous English playwright who met a very unfortunate early death. His plays are still being performed today, though, and may still be considered controversial. His writing caused outrage and amusement, in dark comedies often covering scandalous topics. As we have a number of theatre productions of his works in Brighton, it seemed an excellent topic for me to present in a reading comprehension exercise. So, as English reading practice, please read the following article and see if you can answer the questions that follow. Hopefully it will prove educational, too!

Joe Orton – a short biography

Joe Orton was born John Kingsley Orton, Jan 1 1933. He was a British playwright and author known for writing farces with outrageous and often macabre themes. He was killed in 1967, only 34 years old, but was very prolific until his death.

Orton’s first love was not writing, but acting. He was, however, unsuccessful in his acting career, and was persuaded to try writing by his lifelong companion, Kenneth Halliwell. The pair wrote together in the late 1950s, producing a handful of novels which were not published. Orton’s first success finally came in 1964, when the BBC broadcast his radio play, The Ruffian on the Stair. For the short period that followed until his death, Orton became hugely successful and celebrated as a playwright.

Orton wrote three full-length plays, Entertaining Mr Sloane (1964), Loot (1965) and What the Butler Saw (1969). These were all black comedies (with dark humour), causing scandal by exposing themes of violence, sexuality and morality. His writing was incredibly witty, combining complex interactions between multiple characters with sharp dialogue (and lots of innuendo). Though the plays are farces, with increasingly absurd situations, Orton’s presented madcap situations with characters reacting in very proper, polite manners. In addition to his three full-length plays, he wrote four one-act plays. One of these, Funeral Games (along with What the Butler Saw) was produced only after he died.

Orton was tragically murdered by his companion, Halliwell, who was never as successful a writer. Halliwell committed suicide after the murder. Orton’s short life was explored in a biography, later produced as a film, Prick Up Your Ears.

Joe Orton Reading Comprehension Questions

  1. Why did Orton become a writer?
  2. How did Orton get his first success?
  3. What topics were in Orton’s plays?
  4. How many plays did Joe Orton write?
  5. Which plays were produced posthumously?
  6. How did Kenneth Halliwell die?

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