first night


Fleur Manning has a haunting evening this Halloween with CTC's production of Orphans


A comfortable night out at the theatre this was not. It was however a vivid, gritty and haunting performance, showcasing some of the best of Durham’s theatrical talent.


Dennis Kelly’s Orphans does not make for easy watching, and it was certainly a brave decision by the production team to choose this challenging play. On almost every level though it was a challenge they rose to most capably. The stunned silence of the audience after the lights came up attested to the success of cast and crew in relating both the horror and poignancy of Kelly’s violent and disturbing work.


The play begins on a simple premise – A blood-soaked Liam stumbles into the living room of his sister Helen and her husband Danny, recounting a tale of a witnessed knife-crime. However from this point the play begins its descent into chaos and confusion, as the extent of Liam’s involvement in the crime is questioned, and increasingly unbelievable and appalling truths are revealed.


The directors’ vision was clear; and the play built in tension and urgency, taking the audience on a gripping and unyielding journey. This was by no means a passive experience - as an audience we were forced to question the very nature of morality, and most specifically the extent to which familial bonds can be tested or principles marginalised when one’s personal safety and that of those closest to you are threatened. This well-conceived and structured interpretation ensured that each character was revealed in some sense as one of the ‘orphans’ of the title, and all as both victims and perpetrators of a shocking cycle of violence.


Kelly’s stylised dialogue, which could have been one of the greatest challenges, was overall handled very well by the three actors. There were moments, especially in the first half hour, which suffered through lack of pace, damaging the tension and atmosphere which were key to the play’s success. However these moments were always quickly picked up, and from the middle of Act 1 the play built unstoppably to its chilling conclusion.


All three actors must be commended for their committed and focused performances. Edward Cherrie as Liam very cleverly succeeded in balancing the pathological with the sentimental to give a nuanced depiction of this damaged figure. From his first entrance he established the jittering awkwardness of his character, always out of place in the room and in his own body. At times his high-energy performance was in danger of eclipsing the other two actors, but as the play continued they proved they could more than hold their own.  Kayleigh Carr’s Helen was played with poise and determination. She was able to move deftly between fiery explosiveness and poignant concern for her brother, bringing great sympathy to the role. Some of the most powerful scenes were those between Helen and Liam, whilst Danny, played by David Myers, was somewhat marginalised in the first half of the play. David Myers’ Danny started out as somewhat understated, however his portrayal developed in power throughout, really coming through in Danny’s more impassioned speeches and quick retorts, and he wonderfully presented the startling transformation of the character in the second act.


This interpretation of Kelly’s play also worked on a visual level, as the use of stage space was consistently well thought out and executed. The lighting also deserves a mention - often very subtle, but tastefully and artfully executed, complimenting the onstage action and helping to create the eerie and haunting mood that characterised the play. The one artistic decision I would question was the use of music. The idea to provide a discordant counterpoint to the dialogue was an interesting one, however it seemed to be applied inconsistently, and was often only confusing or distracting.


Ultimately, the most disappointing thing about Orphans was the turnout. This well-crafted, bold show deserves a full and engaged audience. There is no shying away from the fact that Orphans is an unsettling and distressing piece of theatre, but if you wish to be challenged and to watch a play that I can guarantee you will not stop thinking about until long after you leave the theatre, then make your way to the Assembly Rooms before Saturday.


1 November 2013

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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