The Orphanarium of Erthing Worthing

JAMES MACNAMARA: Absurdity is the true human condition and, as this play shows, it’s brilliant.

absurd ADC lateshow buster keaton camus charlotte hamblin funny Mairin O'Hagan Max Levine monty python orphans slapstick

ADC Theatre, 26th-29th October, 11pm, £5-6

Directed by Tom Adams


Oh, stop being silly. No, please carry on. Actually stop. My intercostals are hurting and it’s making me need a wee. The Orphanarium of Erthing Worthing is a a very silly and very wonderful kind of Monty Python pantomime: a boy-meets-girl gallop through I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue,  101 Dalmatians, and The Cider House Rules. It’s Good Clean Fun.

A young lad on work experience is sent to investigate an orphanage. By a man whose profession is ‘closing things down’. And the orphanage is populated by a sexed-out thespy cougar, a crazy kleptomaniac cat lady, a French girl reading Camus, and an elderly gentleman with a passion for box-step. Hilarity ensues. And ensnares. And does lots of other lovely e-words too. Enchants. That sort of thing.

And aside from various abdominal muscles being torn due to laughing as if Legionella had infected my brain, I left sick and green from pure, bitter envy. This play rests lovingly on the back of exceptional comic acting and directing. Jennie King offered a stand-out performance as the bescarved, maniacal ‘Gladys’; her mad cockney ramblings were tied perfectly to a bewildering array of facial expressions and an achingly funny physicality.

Charlotte Hamblin was equally exceptional. Her scarily erotic pitch between Cruella de Vil and Mrs Robinson was expertly realised: a perfect example of the skilful, professional seriousness that lay behind the formulation of a performance that seemed, surfacewise, to be slapdash and surreal.

And, as the French girl says: “c’est pas normal, ca”. I’ve never seen a comedy, perhaps even a performance, in Cambridge in which the movement linked so well with the dialogue. Characters came on stage, said nothing, and it seemed perfectly right that they should be there. There was slapstick and Keatonesque visual gaggery, but nothing was forced or filched attention from what was being said. Whether this was down to the cast or Tom Adams I don’t know, but I suspect they’re all very talented. Damn them.

On to the writing, then. By and large, it was really very excellent indeed. There’s a whole range of humour here, from the absurd (a VHS player that someone feeds because they think it’s a dog. Crazy, awesome) to the traditional, homely sort of joking around that you imagine was on the radio at Christmas in the 70s.

Some lines did, however, fall a little flat. And the central conceit of ‘Jocelyn Cuddles’ – the man obsessed with things ‘being closed’, didn’t carry enough weight to deserve the attention it was afforded. It wasn’t perfect. But it was damn close, chaps. It really was.

The Orphanarium of Erthing Worthing is a feathering mirth poo urn. Perhaps, even, a feather hinting hour romp. It’s silly for the sake of it. Everyone involved revels in this worthy cause – and you should, too. It even has a Joe Thomas testicle moment. Go and see it, it’ll take your mind off things. If it doesn’t – well, to paraphrase Erthing Worthing himself, you’ve probably drunk your own urine, and so angered the spirits. You feather humping horn trio, you. That’s enough now, let’s go and play with the leaves.