Promising to be both “disturbing and darkly comic” according to the New Theatre website, I was unsure of what to expect from their production of Orphans. Whilst it certainly delivered on both accounts, for me, the play failed to achieve any significant emotional connection. “It should be called the hearing aid play,” my friend said to me as we left the New Theatre last night, “because everyone shouts and has to repeat everything 5 times”. The script is razor sharp, and the dialogue cuts a relentless staccato that, whilst effective in creating a hugely tense atmosphere, becomes a little grating after a while. However, Orphans is intended to be a challenging play; its subject matter deals with knife crime, racism, gang culture and the role of family in the 21st Century, so it was never going to be a jolly night out at the theatre.
The play opens with a couple, Helen and Danny, enjoying a quiet meal together, when Helen’s brother Liam strolls through the front door, covered in blood. He claims to have seen a “lad” collapsed in the street after being attacked, which upsets Liam so much, he hugs him. Throughout the evening, as Liam’s story becomes more and more vague, we witness the extent to which family loyalties and morality can be stretched, through Helen’s fierce protection of her brother, and Danny’s middle class view of right and wrong.
Douggie McMeekin lifts the production with his fantastic portrayal of Liam, striking the right balance between naiveté and cruelty, creating a lovable yet dangerous psychopath. However, it was only McMeekin’s comic timing and vulnerability that managed to create any resonance with me. The rest of the cast cannot be faulted for their acting skill, in particular Meg Salter as Helen adds a wonderfully malicious Lady Macbeth aspect to her relationship with her husband. Yet the whole play seemed to lack direction and focus, and whilst providing a chilling insight into the depravity of modern society, fails to deliver real entertainment.