Dennis Kelly’s Orphans is a tightly wound, dynamic, ‘strung out’, Edinburgh (UK) Fringe First award winning play. There is a reason for this. The talent of the playwright is unique and extraordinary, shining in the carefully woven manipulations of narrative, and the congestion of detail in plot that he clears, expertly, with tiny coughs of truth from its characters.
In the first five minutes, we witness, a young man (Liam) dripping in blood, and a couple, Helen (Liam’s sister) and Danny (Helen’s husband) about to embark on a romantic, celebratory meal. The bloody figure, Liam, tells the story of how he has helped a young boy, a victim of knife crime, near the housing estate he was passing, on the way to their house. The couple are paralysed by the macabre figure. The narrative winds tight as decisions are made on what to do, and whether the authorities are to be called, considering Liam has been in trouble, previously. Liam protests his innocence. There is already a feeling of anxiety and distended mistruth.
Helen and Liam, being orphaned as young children, present a degustation of issues for the audience. The safer that Liam feels in his position with Helen’s loyalty, the more he clarifies the initial story. Helen, managing Liam’s violent episodes for many years, separates herself for the first time from him, and from herself, and from the family unit.
This production of Orphans, although interesting, presents slightly imbalanced levels in its staging. An example of this is the consistent scuffing shoes of Helen (Erin Dewar), dragging her feet in an unmetered nervous response to the stress of the situation. Not only was this distracting, it punctured the dramatic abrasion created by the dialogue. This affectation accompanied by a consistent dropping of accent made it impossible to believe in the authenticity of this character.
This too, was true of the yelling in fits of anger, at various moments throughout. Red Stitch Actors Theatre is a small and intimate space where sound carries beautifully, and subtleties echo. In tandem, an over use of strobe lighting and combined banging sound effects, somewhat strained the tightrope of Kelly’s masterfully constructed plotline, acting like an ejector-seat, jolting the mise-en-scene and jarring the already skewed reality of the world.
Boldly directed by Imara Savage, Orphans is an excellently written play, running two hours without interval, and for the most part, intriguing. A few more performances may bring this production to a more balanced level of staging, allowing it to relax into itself, ready to rivet, as Dennis Kelly’s script provides the platform to do so.
Red Stitch Actors Theatre presents
by Dennis Kelly
Directed by Imara Savage
Venue: Red Stitch Actors Theatre | Rear 2 Chapel Street, St. Kilda
Dates: 5 October – 5 November 2011
Tickets: $34 – $15
Bookings: 9533 8083 | www.redstitch.net