Review: Orphans

Infinity Stage Company blew Will Amott away with their production ‘Orphans’.


Orphans, originally written by Dennis Kelly, performed by Infinity Stage Company, holds its audience at knifepoint. Being held at knifepoint has never been so satiating.

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Helen (Lorna Newman) and Danny (Danny Hetherington) are settling down for a celebratory dinner, when Liam (James Dolton) comes crashing in, a squirrely whirlwind, door slamming behind him. He’s covered in blood having just found the victim of an attack “out there” – out there being the dangerous Broken Britain of contemporary times.

The play unfolds at breakneck speed – even its moments of (sometimes quite long) silence feel like you’re boarded up in the house with a hurricane approaching – as Liam’s story changes, and the happily married couple navigate their own issues. The plot is surprisingly slight on reflection, but if there were any more dramatics, one might have thrown up.

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This is naturalistic writing at its limit. The characters speak about nothing and tell us everything: their word choices betray unconscious tragedies, their fumbling tells truths, and their pauses are pregnant with emotion.

Where would the writing be, without the actors capable to pull it off? Newman, Hetherington and Dolton have been rehearsing for 9 weeks, but, dare I gush, I would say it appears more like 9 months or more.

There is the odd hiccup, a line rendered accidentally staccato or an unintentional repetition, but they are rare. All three actors seem to know this text so well, it is as if one is watching them think as their characters, watching them decide what to say as they say it – like some dark, cathartic improvisation. They are fantastic, in short.

Newman’s gift is her expressive face: a pursing of the lips, a breath, a blink tells us all we need to know. Her ‘moment’ near the end of the play is an education in emotion. Hers and Dolton’s well-realised sibling relationship makes one believe that old adage, “blood is thicker than water.”

Do we loathe them? Agree with them? What would we do in their shoes?

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Hetherington, as the third point in this familial triquetra, has a slower start, but remarkably grounds his character’s (unlikely) transformation in truth. One can’t help but feel for him, even when he does what he does.

Dolton is mesmeric as the plot’s catalyst, gormlessly sentimental and unnervingly mercurial. His is the performance it is hard to look away from, especially since he provides the little humour present in the play.

Said humour perhaps could have been expanded upon in other moments, as at times this felt uninterruptedly bleak, but, then, I thought Linnea Kalderan-Anderson’s production was so good, I wouldn’t really want to change anything.

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Orphans was performed on 13th March and 14th March, and is to be performed tonight (15/03/14), in the Amos Room in the Guild at 7pm. All proceeds go to the Queen Elizabeth Teenage Cancer Ward.