Company D presents 'Orphans' by Dennis Kelly.

Company D presents 'Orphans' by Dennis Kelly.

Company D presents 'Orphans' by Dennis Kelly.

Company D presents 'Orphans' by Dennis Kelly.

Dennis Kelly's play Orphans is many things. It's a look at the magnetic pull of family ties on one's moral compass. It's an examination of the class and race war raging within Britain today. It questions what dark lengths we are all capable of going to and what would push us to them. And it’s an example of a woman's right to choose taken to nightmarish extremes. Picking away at what a man's role in society is – as lover, father, protector – it explores fear, shame and perception in relation to gender and the colour of one's skin. But it is not a comical farce, which is how, due to some unfortunate choices in the acting, this Company D production comes off.

Helen (Sinéad Sommers) and Danny (John Dixon) have just sat down to a celebratory dinner when Liam (Andrew Lynch) bursts through the door. Dripping in another's blood, he claims to have found a young man, alone and brutalized on the street. Then his story changes. And then it changes again. With each excited revelation and panicked cover up, the couple are forced to face up to moral conundrums where legalities and loyalties collide.

Liam is Helen’s brother, a violent tearaway whose aggressive nature meant they never found any long-term foster homes after their parents were killed in a fire. Helen's husband Danny has already been the victim of a physical assault, but refuses to accept that it was racially motivated. Is Liam’s current predicament directly related to Danny's or is it just another example of a world gone to tat, where the streets are off limits when the sun goes down and the colour of your skin makes you fair game for assault?

OrphansThe actors in this production haven't yet notched up much professional experience – something that becomes apparent through some aspects of their performance. Dixon is overly naturalistic as Danny, speaking softly, inwardly and often minus the key aspects that mark stage performance out from those of the screen. Lynch as Liam gets enveloped in the tics and gestures that are associated with actors like Pacino and De Niro, and Sommers is too rigid in her body and in her delivery. Her response to a given situation is rarely natural, rather premeditated - which jars with the rapid joining of dots her character must continually undertake in order to ensure a situation never spins beyond her control.

None of this is helped by the decision to keep the action in its original British setting. While the accents are fine, initially, during more heated segments we were given a cornucopia of accents, from Dublin to Durban – and while it's nice they didn't feel the urge to Irish up the action, it became a distraction.

That being said, for actors starting off, both Dixon and Lynch had strong presence, not just playing the emotions but also taking their characters on a journey. And Orphans is so fascinating a piece, it’s hard not to sit in the theatre and ask yourself what you would do if wearing the characters’ shoes. But this is a difficult text, and the heightened exchanges contain layers and tensions that neither the cast nor director Ruth Calder Potts have the experience to bring to the fore, and instead of feeling charged, the piece often felt like a parody. The decision to plunge the venue into darkness during scene changes made it feel distinctly amateurish, while the design – chalked swastikas and football insignia – didn’t feel properly thought out.

As with their recent production, David Mamet's Oleanna, Company D have taken up the challenge of staging a difficult but invigorating text. Both plays are riveting explorations of male/ female powerplays. But Company D’s treatment of Orphans panders too much to the big moments and not the little ones leading up to them. Given that Kelly manipulates the text so that his characters take sudden actions that feel incredible but which service his point, this means that when played without enough forethought the production seems incredible and inhuman.

Caomhan Keane is a freelance journalist who has written about theatre for The Irish Times and the Sunday Independent and is senior theatre writer at entertainment.ie

  • Review
  • Theatre

Orphans by Dennis Kelly

11 - 15 Dec 2012

Produced by Company D
In Theatre@36

Directed By: Ruth Calder-Potts

Lighting Design: Patrick Burke

With: Sinéad Sommers, John Dixon, Andrew Lynch