Now Reading
Play censors made bi ‘psycho’ older as gay sex was too shocking

Play censors made bi ‘psycho’ older as gay sex was too shocking

A ‘psychopathic’ murderer character in a play had his age raised by censors as gay sex was considered too shocking at the time, new research reveals.

Gay British playwright Joe Orton’s Entertaining Mr Sloane, which first premiered in 1964, was forcibly changed by the Lord Chamberlain’s Office.

Emma Parker, a professor from the University of Leicester, came across several letters when she was researching for the 50th anniversary edition of the play.

Orton in his letters made it clear that he wanted Sloane to be as young as possible. In the first performance, he was 17.

The play is a black comedy about a landlady and her brother enticing a young man into sex. Reviewers at the time described the young man as ‘psychopathic’. 

He was made into a 20-year-old man in the later editions, making Sloane’s sexual encounters with two siblings less provoking.

‘I discovered a discrepancy between the age of Sloane in different editions of the play when I was preparing a new 50th anniversary edition of the play for Methuen Drama,’ Parker told Gay Star News.

‘My guess is that Sloane’s age was raised because the play caused so much controversy. Whether Orton gave his consent or not, the raising of the central character’s age contradicts the playwright’s wishes.’

Parker continued saying, while the script was only party censored at the time, the play had undergone a full censorship.

In Orton’s letters, he stated the Lord Chamberlain’s Office had forced him to change words like ‘shit’ and ‘bugger’ in the play before it was staged. The changes to Sloane’s age came later when the play was published.

Parker said: ‘The play was certainly subject to direct censorship.

‘[Orton] was told the actors playing Kath and Sloane were expressly forbidden to simulate copulation.

‘As this suggests, the so-called ‘Swinging Sixties’ were actually still a deeply conservative decade.’

‘As a working class writer and a gay man who put same-sex desire on stage before the legalisation of homosexuality in 1967, Orton’s achievement was enormous.’

Dr Parker’s new edition of Entertaining Mr Sloane will be launched at the University of Leicester’s Bookshop on Tuesday 6 May at 12 pm.