Review: Orphans

Ashley Chhibber 12 June 2013


Corpus Playroom, Tues 11th – Sat 15th, 9.30pm

Orphans is a play about family, love and loss, and crime; most importantly, it is about the continuum of loved ones and strangers. As such, the relationship between the three characters on the stage was key; unfortunately, this was in many ways underplayed.

Liam (Silas Lee) put in a very accomplished performance, his character wholly believable and deeply realised. However, the relationship between Helen (Rebecca Phillips) and Danny (David Gilbert), although central, felt a little too difficult: Gilbert’s performance in particular might have been far more nuanced. Yet I think this was largely a result of the script. While the original version of the play, written by Dennis Kelly in 2009, was very favourably received, I felt that the dialogue was overly simple and stilted, and perhaps lacking in realism. At points this was intentional and served a clear purpose, but it was incredibly overused, to the point that it lost significance.

There was a particularly interesting hint, in the second half, of an equation between Liam and Helen and the rioting youths threatening their safe-haven. This made the relationship between Helen and Danny even more uncomfortable, perhaps even reminiscent of paedophilia but, again, this was not fully explored.

Orphans, as a play, appeared to be striving for meaning; at times, unfortunately, the minimalist set– white walls, white table, white sofa – undercut this meaning.Apart from anything else, it refused to allow us to believe in the central premise of the play: that Helen has been raised out of Liam’s criminal lifestyle through her relationship with Danny, while Danny has been brought down through association with Liam. The sparse setting – more desolate than clean chic – reduced the possible scope that this relationship was capable of achieving.Equally, the breaks between the scenes, in which the lights flickered to green and an uncomfortable piercing noise was emitted, would have worked much better to establish a bleak setting were the set not already so cold and uninviting.

The play felt far too long; the intensity that was hinted at seemed to drain away at times, and this could have been combated if the length of the play had been reduced. The dialogue was occasionally repetitive and halting, and both action and character progression were somewhat lacking until the second half, which was admittedly far more engaging than the first. Pacing was also slightly off, particularly noticeable at the end of the first half, which almost screamed out for a dramatic pause. Moreover, some of the artistic choices felt misguided. Nevertheless, without making major changes to the script, the cast were able to put in a strong performance and drew out some interesting and certainly relevant themes.

Ashley Chhibber