Extract from manuscript of Fred and Madge



Fred and Madge, written in 1959 when he was 26, was Joe Orton's very first play. On the face of it, Fred and Madge seem to be a stereotypical working class, middle-aged couple, bored with each other and talking in clichés. But it emerges that Fred's job is to push boulders uphill and Madge spends her working days sieving water in a bath. Here, Fred describes his pride in his pointless occupation with another character, SPP (Small Part Player)

SPP: You seem to have a really worthwhile job here
Fred: We have our coats off, sir. Work is recognised as a virtue.
SPP: You push this stone -
Fred: Up the hill, sir.
SPP: And what happens then?
Fred: It all depends. It should roll down again. But accidents will happen. Sometimes it topples over the other side.

When the action of the play is interrupted by Webber, a director-like figure and Fred takes on the role of stage hand, Fred and Madge seem to be inhabiting a play about themselves. The story enters the fantastic in Acts 2 and 3, with England being taken over by a primeval forest and the cast literally destroying architecture by laughing at it.

The Visitors was written in 1961, and was the last play Orton wrote before his breakthrough. The Visitors was rejected by both the BBC and the Royal Court. Whilst admiring the dialogue, they felt the plot was unstructured. Set in a hospital where Kemp is visited by his middle-aged daughter, Mrs Platt, the nursing staff are more intent on betting and gossip than patient care and Mrs Platt speaks to her dying father in petty clichés.

Kemp: I shall be here till they carry me out.
Mrs Platt: We'll have you skipping about in no time.
Kemp: I won't bother you much longer.
Mrs Platt: I won't have that kind of talk, do you hear? You've got years ahead of you. What do you want to die for?
Kemp: I don't want to.
Mrs Platt: Well?
Kemp: But I'm going to

The Visitors introduces the father and daughter characters later reworked and developed into Kemp and Kath in Entertaining Mr Sloane.

Image: Courtesy The Orton Estate/Joe Orton Collection at the Library of the University of Leicester   Text: Joe Orton Online / Orton Quotes: © The Orton Estate  

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