Orphans wasn’t exactly what I expected to find when I walked into the sprawling and maze-like first floor venue that Q44 operate out of, but it fit perfectly. My Saturday night at the theatre was one of the best I’ve had in a long time. Experienced a great venue, discovered a new company and saw a fantastic show!
Orphans, by American playwright and actor Lyle Kessler, is the emotional tale of two young men, Treat (Ashley McKenzie) and Philip (Mark Davis), orphaned as young boys and left on their own in North Philadelphia. Treat has taken it upon himself, in his own violent and uncontrolled manner, to look after his younger brother Philip, going so far as to convincing him that it would be unsafe to ever leave the house. Having spent the years following their mother’s death stealing for a living to support his brother, Treat decides to take a gamble with kidnapping and ransom in the hope of making some big bucks. Enter kidnap victim Harold (Gareth Reeves), a man who isn’t all he appears to be.
It’s hard to identify a stand out performer in this work. McKenzie and Davis throw themselves, physically and mentally, into the roles of the two brothers and Orphans most poignant commentaries are that of brothers banded together in a world against them. Hearts on their sleeves, tempers frayed and fear in their eyes, Treat and Philip scream at the void they’ve been left behind in and the audience can’t help but root for them, even the violent and miscreant Treat.
Reeves on the other hand plays Harold very close to the chest. From his incredible calm at being kidnapped to his own obvious amusement at himself,and his constant ‘encouragement’ of the boys, Harold is the mystery of the piece. In Treat and Philip the audience can read their whole history in moments. With Harold, his history is just that, history. He’s is a closed book and Reeves plays him beautifully to keep the audience engaged and not have them shrug him off as just a mystery. Instead the audience craves answers but must content themselves with not the man Harold was but the man he is with the brothers.
It is however through Philip that Orphans most seeks to capture the audience’s heart, and it is because of Davis that it succeeds. From the moment that he sits on the small loft area over half the audience bank, legs over the side dangling in front of those who have sat in that bank, and starts to absentmindedly blow bubbles, the audience loves him. Be it the careless swinging of the legs, the simple minded amusement at the bubbles or his hiding his attempts to acquire an education from his older brother. Davis smiles as Philip and the audience smiles with him. When his smile is shattered, the audience wish they could do something to save him from his, and his brothers, fate.
Orphans has heart, wit, humour, stellar performances and great direction (Gabriella Rose-Carter). Q44 are one to watch in Melbourne and I can’t wait to see what they do next. But first go see what they’re doing now.