Orphans, written by British playwright Dennis Kelly, is Queensland Theatre Company’s first Studio season production for the year.
Superbly directed and cast by Kat Henry, this production set in a comfortable yet sterile yuppie minimalist dining and lounge room, begins deceptively slow, with Helen (Helen Cassidy) and her husband Danny (Christopher Sommers) sharing a rare romantic dinner for two at home, when Helen’s troubled brother Liam (Leon Cain) breaks the mood by turning up unannounced – and covered in blood.
Liam drags into their quiet middle-class lives the proverbial ‘dead cat’ that will change their lives forever. In this psychological suspense-thriller genre where most of the action/violence happens off-stage, the tension increases throughout the play (with the help of a subtle industrial soundtrack and strobe lighting) to the point of no return.
As the real story unravels, so do relationships and alliances between characters as each new piece of information comes to light (even if that piece of information is not the truth). Uncomfortable to witness as it is, the play is like a train wreck that you can’t help but watch.
As an audience member, we also change alliances throughout the play and are continually confronted by two questions: What would I do in that situation, and is blood really thicker than water? It is uncomfortable because it challenges our morals and explores an ugly side to society that we like to pretend doesn’t exist but could very well turn up on our doorstep one day.
Leon Cain as Liam, the agitated innocent bystander come brute, is in a word – brilliant. His scattered energy yet cunningly focused manipulation was played with perfect balance. Helen Cassidy as Helen displays a different brand of manipulation – subtle at first, playing various tactics until forced to resort to blatant ultimatums. Christopher Sommers as Danny showed a great range of emotions throughout his journey of becoming a changed man – a stark contrast from the mild mannered conservative at the start of the play.
This is a very well written play by Dennis Kelly, replicating naturalistic dialogue with over-lapping and repetitive text and cut off sentences, while orchestrating a structure that strategically increases the tension and pace, including just a few splashes of lightness for temporary relief in this one-act masterpiece. Now I’m not one to go out and watch a psychological-thriller at the movies, but in the theatre, for me, it’s a different story.
Theatre has many roles to play in society. One is to be entertaining and funny and escapist. This is NOT one of those plays. Another is to reflect life and explore subjects or parts of society that are swept under the rug. This IS one of those plays. It is confronting, challenging and thought provoking and should defiantly be on the ‘to see’ list as part of a well-rounded theatrical experience for 2011.