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The University of Leicester brings letters of legendary 1960s playwright to life

Supported by the National Lottery the University of Leicester will highlight the work of 1960s local playwright Joe Orton.

Joe Orton was a 1960s Leicester-born playwright and author who shocked, outraged, and amused audiences with his scandalous dark comedies. To mark 50 years since the death of this iconic writer and gay icon, the University of Leicester will be showcasing the letters of Edna Welthorpe, an elderly female character that Orton created to write spoof letters of complaint, which parodied snobbery.  

Joe Orton’s Edna Welthorpe Letters Revisited is supported by a £14,000 investment by the National Lottery through the Grants for the Arts scheme and will celebrate the life of a working class, gay writer and Leicester’s literary history.

As part of the project, Orton’s original letters will be made available to view online and 10 acclaimed writers will create new ‘Edna letters’ to be read at public events at the Little Theatre, where Orton himself once performed. A new animation inspired by Orton’s original works will also be displayed at Latitude Festival, Suffolk alongside a talk about his life and legacy.  

For students and young people, an online national writing competition will be launched to create an ‘Edna letter’ and workshops at the University of Leicester, home of the Orton archive, will give students insight into how literature can inspire new forms of creativity. 

Peter Knott, Area Director, Arts Council England, said: “Leicester local Joe Orton was not afraid to push the boundaries of traditional writing and subsequently has had a huge impact on British theatre. In showcasing these letters, the University of Leicester is marking 50 years since Orton’s death by highlighting Leicester’s fantastic cultural history and demonstrates that creativity and written talent is everywhere – I hope many young people are enthused to write a ‘Dear Edna’ letter.”

Enter the competition here

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