Thursday, 21 January 2016

Orphans @ Hope Mill Theatre, 14.1.16

No time for a clever anecdote for this one kids, I just need to jump straight in and talk about Play With Fire’s production of Orphans. I know the purpose of a review is to give an honest account of a piece and balance both the positives and the negatives, but spoiler alert this one is going to be positive. This piece did have a couple of negatives I would like to raise, the main one being the audience numbers where not what this piece deserved. The second, we will get to later.

 Orphans is a story of two brothers bereaved as children after the death of their mother and desertion of their father. Alone to raise themselves, the now adult boys live in the dilapidated family home in Philadelphia. Eldest brother Treat (James Oates) provides for his little brother Phillip (Daniel Bradford) by being a petty thief, which soon changes their lives forever when he kidnaps a Chicago gangster (Shaun Hennessy).

Written by Lyle Kessler, the script is incredibly moving and engaging. There is a delectable sprinkling of humour and brilliant one liners, that really give the characters some dimension. This masterfully crafted dialogue acts almost as a ‘safety net’ for its actors, for there is no way we could not get a sense of who these characters are; it is literally ingrained in the things they say. But the cast went above and beyond, with each individual’s performance matching the already brilliant quality of this script.

Oates explosive performance as Treat is superb, as he encapsulates the demeanour of a violent and manipulative adult, with an underlying vulnerability and childish longing. This makes it is easy to feel empathy for him when the time comes. Hennessey gives a stellar performance of Harold. Although we first meet him in a vulnerable position, tables are turned when with gun in hand Harold throws the boys a lifeline and becomes the parent they have yearned for. Hennessy was a natural fit for Harold’s fast paced, hilarious dialogue; all the while being the tender vein running through the play. The stand out for me however was the excellent Bradford as Phillip. I have seen Bradford in a show before where again he was wonderful to watch, but he didn't have much to apply in terms of physicality. So to see just what more he had to offer when approaching a role was a great surprise. Rather than portray housebound Phillip as child trapped in an adult body, I sensed Bradford instead create a portrait of someone with potential Autism spectrum disorder, who could thrive and functioning at a high level, but not without the experience and help he’s not getting.        

  It’s all been pretty positive so far hasn't it? It continues with direction and production of the show, which is both slick and precise. The only thing I would bring up, was that some of the physical combat scenes were a tad sloppy. Understandably the moves where risky and it’s best to approach with caution. However, with the characters all having such prominent behavioural traits there is a brewing feeling that any one of those behaviours could get out of hand. When it inevitably does in those moments, the pace slowed down.

The standard of this production was what you would expect at The Exchange or HOME, and I'm proud to say it has come from a team of independent theatre makers. So while you’re buying a season ticket at your favourite theatre, think about what you could be missing on the Indie scene.

Words by Kate Morris

Images courtesy of George Hill Photography