Orphans

April 13, 2022 | By More

★★★☆☆    Raucous

King’s Theatre: Tue 12 – Sat 16 April 2022
Review by Hugh Simpson

Full of comic bravado, the National Theatre of Scotland’s long-delayed musical adaptation of Orphans at the King’s is an attractive but unwieldy beast.

Peter Mullan’s 1998 movie has been transformed into a full-blown musical by adapter Douglas Maxwell and director Cora Bissett, with songs by Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly.

Amy Conachan, Dylan Wood, Reuben Joseph and Robert Florence. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

The Flynn family – overly righteous Thomas, dutiful Sheila, adopted sibling Michael and much younger John – gather the night before their mother’s funeral. Each deals with their grief and loss in different ways, in downward spirals accompanied by a literal and metaphorical storm.

Adaptations of films often suffer from a too-faithful approach to the source whose popularity has drawn in the audience in the first place. Orphans surely counts as a cult rather than a mainstream success, but there are definite signs that there has been a reluctance to cut too much of the original, while also adding a great deal of new material.

beautifully atmospheric lighting

The cinematic origins of the piece are also betrayed by its decidedly episodic nature. A parade of short scenes creates problems that cannot ever quite be solved by Emily James’s brilliant, constantly-revolving tenement set and Lizzie Powell’s beautifully atmospheric lighting.

Seemingly striving for an epic, picaresque wander through a long and stormy dark night of the soul, it ends up as baggy, lopsided and at least thirty minutes too long. Despite the length, however, even the central characters remain largely opaque and their motivations unclear.

Charlie West, Louise McCarthy, Reuben Joseph, Betty Valencia and John McLarnon. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

Which is a shame, because there is so much on display that is convincing. The performances are uniformly compelling; Robert Florence (best known for Burnistoun) shows a hitherto unheralded talent for musical theatre as the finicky John, while Reuben Joseph gives the self-destructive Michael genuine power.

Dylan Wood’s anger as the youngest child John is well expressed; Amy Connachan’s wheelchair user Sheila is another beautifully pitched performance.

oozing with comic talent

They are backed up by a raucous ensemble that is simply oozing with comic talent. More established figures such as Paul McCole, Harry Ward and Louise McCarthy seize every opportunity for comedy, while younger performers such as Charlie West and the magnificent Amber Sylvia Edwards are thoroughly impressive.

Bissett’s direction is constantly inventive, helped in no small part by Vicki Manderson’s movement direction. The musical set pieces are particularly well handled.

Patricia Panther, Amy Conachan and Amber Sylvia Edwards. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

Hart and Reilly’s music is suitably redolent of the 90s, with hints of The Blue Nile and fairground rave. It is unfortunate that there are no live musicians, however, and the synth washes and thudding drums do threaten to become headache-inducing as the show creeps up to the three-hour mark.

The feel of the production is much closer to old-school, full-on stage musical than the ‘Scottish’ tradition of a more homespun play-with-songs we are used to. Which is odd, as there are elements that work against this having the widest possible audience – not least the language, which certainly reflects the 16+ age recommendation, and is best reflected by a number cheerily entitled Every Cunt Should Love Every Cunt.

ruthless editing

The odd mix of violence and sentimentality, coupled with the exalted place given to ‘patter’, that characterises far too much of Scottish fiction, is in evidence here. The hard edge of the comedy and drama on display thankfully wins out, although it is a close-run thing at times.

Sheer energy and comic nous do overcome most of the structural faults, but more ruthless editing would have produced a more vital spectacle.

Running time: Three hours and five minutes (including one interval)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street, EH3 9LQ
Tuesday 12 – Saturday 16 April 2022
Evenings at 7.30 pm; Matinee Sat at 2.30 pm
Information and tickets: Book here.

Eden Court, Bishop’s Road, Inverness IV3 5SA
Thursday 28 – Saturday 30 April
Evenings at 7.30 pm; Matinee Sat at 2.30 pm
Information and tickets: Book here.

The Cast. Pic Mihaela Bodlovic

ENDS

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