Monday, 12 October 2009


Went to the Soho on Saturday afternoon to watch Dennis Kelly's acclaimed Edinburgh hit Orphans. It was really good, brilliantly acted, completely engaging and beautifully written. A great clunking fist of a morality play.

Earlier in the day Michael Billington, in his Guardian review, had said he'd been disheartened by a young talent like Dennis 'aiding and abetting' David Cameron's rhetoric about a broken society. It's an interesting take, but my reading of the show was totally different.

I saw it as a tragic drama on an epic scale, that questions that very limits of familial responsibility. The fates roar and lead us to the abyss.

Liam (Joe Armstrong) turns up on his sister Helen's doorstep covered in blood, with an implausible story of helping the victim of a violent racist attack. Helen's husband Danny (Jon McGuiness) asks questions, at first to try and work out what's happened and with the intention of helping the victim. Liam crumbles and eventually admits that the blood comes from his rage infused torture of an Asian man in a lock up garage.

Helen (Claire-Louise Cordwell) is torn. Repulsed by her little brother, but also protective of him - they are the Orphans of the title, having lost their parents in a house fire- she tries to find a way out. Firstly she blackmails Danny by threatening to terminate her pregnancy if he doesn't support the alibi, before persuading him to join Liam in a second round of violence to scare the victim from reporting the incident to the police.

With Danny destroyed, Liam is disowned, expelled from the family, he hands back the key to his sister's house and walks out to await arrest. The final moment comes when Danny, now unable to conceive of himself as a father, tells Helen to abort the unborn child.

To make sense of Billington's review you'd have to reduce this soaring arch into a sociological metaphor for contemporary Britain, when actually the play is more a universal psychological study on the fear of losing something that you love and the descent into chaos that blind loyalty leads to. Like Hamlet, Long Day's Journey into Night or Antigone, Orphans is domestic and epic in one swoop and not even the modesty of the Soho can hide that.

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