Crimes of Passion: The Story of Joe Orton

National Justice Museum

22 July – 1 October 2017

Celebrating the life of playwright Joe Orton on the 50th anniversary of his death, this exhibition looks at aspects of crime in both his life and work.

Joe Orton

The fatefully short life of Leicester-born playwright Joe Orton was touched by crime in different ways. In 1962, he and his partner, Kenneth Halliwell, were sentenced to six months in prison for defacing library books – a punishment they felt was disproportionately harsh due to their being in a relationship at a time when homosexuality was illegal. His blackly comic and often farcical plays explored themes of crime and justice, skewering the police and the government; and in 1967, his own life was tragically cut short by Halliwell, who murdered Orton in their home.

Marking 50 years since Orton’s death and 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, this exhibition – realised with your support through our crowdfunding platform, Art Happens – presents both anniversaries as a prompt to think about how the law works to protect, or could do more to protect, fundamental personal rights. As well as the extraordinary life and work of Orton, who with plays including Entertaining Mr Sloane and Loot became one of the most talked-about young names in 60s British theatre, it recognises an important moment in the history of LGBT rights. 

On show are some of the defaced library books; items from the University of Leicester’s Orton Archive, including Orton’s Morocco diary; and a large collage installation by his nephew, artist David Lock, inspired by the collage from Orton and Halliwell’s London flat. 

Venue information

Opening times

Mon – Fri 9am – 5.30pm 

Sat – Sun 9am – 5.30pm

"Art Fund" is the operating name of the National Art Collections Fund, a charity registered in England and Wales (209174) and Scotland (SC038331)