Orphans

MADDIE BROWN is impressed by this dark play which exhibits ‘some of the finest acting in Cambridge’.

Corpus David Gilbert Dennis Kelly orphans Rebecca Phillips Silas Lee

Corpus Playroom, 9.30pm, Tuesday 11th – Saturday 15th June, £6/5

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There has to be something special about any production taking place in May Week for it to attract the crowds away from the pub and into the theatre. So what could be a better reason to venture down King’s Parade and into the Corpus Playroom than a production exhibiting some of the finest acting in Cambridge?

An interesting choice for the time of year, Orphans is about violence, warped perceptions of morality and a broken society – certainly not for those wanting some easy viewing, suffice to say. The play explores the relationship between a husband and wife, Danny and Helen, and her troubled brother, Liam, in the context of a fragmented and xenophobic society. The play is rather long and intense, but it keeps the audience fully engaged – quite a feat when its plot is rooted in the interaction between characters.

The acting was superb. Silas Lee as the troubled Liam was captivating throughout. You got a real sense of his mental agitation which effectively demonstrated how an unstable upbringing can have such an impact on an individual later on in life.  Lee passed between disturbing outbursts and moments of control wonderfully. The contrast between Liam and Danny’s initially calm and composed character worked incredibly well, as did the gradual transformation of David Gilbert’s Danny as the events of the play unfolded. Gilbert should be commended here. According to camdram, this is his first production… Wow. You would have thought this was a highly-experienced Cambridge thesp. I look forward to seeing Gilbert in more Cambridge drama. Keep a look out for this one.

Rebecca Phillips as Helen had perhaps the most challenging role in the play. She had to mediate between the male characters, whilst projecting a form of sedate authority. Yet, at the same time, the painful social context in which the character has been brought up and continues to experience needed to be highlighted; that latent unease was very much there.  It was with Phillips that the difficulties of Dennis Kelly’s script could be seen. Some of the pauses were a little over-acted and the line breaks a little pre-empted. Still, this was one of the best female performances I have seen this term.

My main criticism lies with the directing. The conceptual, physical scene at the beginning, whilst you could see that it was meant to embody the relationships within the play, was not effective. Equally, some of the lighting and sound effects were odd – it was difficult to understand what they were meant to signify. If anything, keeping it simple would have worked better.

At a time of year when all you want is something cheerful and light, Orphans is not all that appropriate. This is a shame. It contains truly some of the most sophisticated acting I have seen, but would perhaps do much better as a Michaelmas or Lent show. Still, if you can muster up the energy, go and see this play. The opening night was very empty, and the cast certainly deserved a bigger audience than they received. Don’t miss an opportunity to get a flavour of this inspiring drama – it’s damn exciting.