Jack Birkett was a British dancer, mime artist, actor and singer, best known for his work on stage as a member of Lindsay Kemp's theatre company, and in the films of Derek Jarman. He was often billed as Orlando or The Incredible Orlando. Most of his best-known work was done when he was totally blind.
He was born in Leeds. His mother came from a Romani family; his father left home when he was six. Birkett attended Coldcotes School in Gipton until the age of 14, developing a passion for ballet. He worked as an artist's model for David Hockney and others, before finding work at the Grand Theatre in Leeds in 1950 as a stage hand and lighting technician. Soon afterwards, he moved to London, working as a dancer and singer in touring shows and musicals, including the UK tour of Oklahoma! in 1952. In 1956 he met Lindsay Kemp, when they were both doing ballet classes with Marie Rambert at the Mercury Theatre, Notting Hill Gate.
Jean Genet's Our Lady of the Flowers, which briefly transferred from London to Broadway in 1974, and he continued to tour worldwide with Kemp until the late 1980s.
Birkett also made a number of TV and film appearances, including portrayals of Borgia Ginz in Derek Jarman's Jubilee (1978), Caliban in Jarman's version of The Tempest (1979), Thersites in Jonathan Miller's Troilus and Cressida (1981) - part of the BBC Television Shakespeare series, in which Birkett delivered his lines in the manner of a drag queen - the Pope in Jarman's Caravaggio (1986), and Pontius in The Garden (1990).
He eventually retired from performing, living in Barcelona and finally in London, where he died in 2010 at the age of 75. Kemp wrote:
Jack was Judy to my Mr Punch, Harlequin to my Pierrot, Titania to my Puck, Herodias to my Salomé, Queen of Hearts to my Lewis Carroll. We shared flats, dressing rooms, boyfriends, bills, good times and bad times, success and failure; a couple of extravagant young dreamers, a couple of aching elders, always entertainers.