These are some of the questions you may find yourself pondering if you get along to the unpretentious production of Orphans presented by Steam Productions in Brunswick this month.
Dark and satirical – but with just enough bursts of black humour to maintain your will to live – the story centres opens with a couple, Helen and Danny, celebrating Helen’s pregnancy news. The evening is interrupted by the arrival of Helen’s brother, Liam, covered in blood. Slowly – through cleverly revealing but occasionally excruciating dialogue – we learn whose blood it is and how Liam became soaked in it.
As most crises do, the emergency reveals mismatched principles and perspectives. But as the exposed gaps and flaws in the interlinked relationships swell and become infected with latent fear, self-doubt and loathing, the cosy, tightly knit cohort threatens to burst apart.
Writer Dennis Kelly grew up in a working class area of London and the theme of urban conflict and youthful misdeeds often appear in his work, such as the play DNA and TV drama Utopia, although these are in stark contrast to the TV comedy Pulling and the bright, uplifting and hugely successful stage adaption of Roald Dahl’s book, Matilda the Musical, on which he collaborated with Tim Minchin.
“I don’t think I write characters that are bad, I think I write characters that are trying to do the right thing but are failing,” he says in an interview for UK newspaper The Telegraph.
The vernacular throughout Orphans is distinctly English – as are the mannerisms brought to the play by British actor Sian Denovan (Helen). But the subject matter is universal and highly relevant to recent Melbourne woes.
Pat Moonie bright some excellent timing and rhythm to the role of Liam, while Gavin Williams, as Danny, brings a welcome touch of sanity and gravitas.
There are also some beautifully subtle asides and facial expressions – for which director Douglas Montgomery could well be responsible – that work especially well in the intimate space offered by Brunswick’s Mechanics Institute hall. The use of freeze-frame “screen shots” is less successful.
Despite all this talent, the nihilistic tone of the piece can at times be overwhelming and a tad exhausting. Equally, I wonder if the catastrophic proportions of the situation will make it too easy to write off as fiction, while maybe missing the opportunity to connect with the underlying everyday issues.
Steam Productions in association with Broken Mirror Productions presents
by Dennis Kelly
Director Douglas Montgomery
Venue: Mechanics Institute | 270 Sydney Road, Brunswick
Dates: 8 – 23 August 2014
Time: 7.30pm (3pm matinees Aug 9, 16, 17, 23)
Tickets: $28 ($24). Tuesdays $20; pay as you feel August 18