Written in 1959 when he was only 26 years old, Fred and Madge was Joe Orton’s very first play and has been rarely produced since its composition.
The title characters of the play seem to be the stereotypical middle-aged couple, bored with one another and conversing in clichés. But it turns out that Fred’s job is to push boulders uphill like Sisyphus and Madge’s is to sieve water all day long. Furthermore, since the action is repeatedly interrupted by a quasi-director, it seems they are inhabiting a play about themselves. Soon, it becomes clear that London is becoming subsumed by rampant greenery and the whole cast dreams of escape. Orton’s play zings with sharp one-liners and dialogue that reeks of sexual and social innuendo – a foretaste of his inimitable theatrical style that would eventually turn him into one of Britain’s best-loved playwrights.
Fred and Madge fuses anger with absurdity in its portrait of a working-class couple dehumanised by the relentless routine of their mundane lives. These routines are paralleled by the rituals of the theatre itself, something with which Orton was all too familiar.