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Review of ‘Orphans’

By Peter Yolland

Dennis Kelly, the author of ‘Orphans’, came from a London council estate and is best known for his dark style of writing. ‘Orphans’ was first staged in 2009 and the story revolves around a family living on what has been described as a sink estate.

Danny and Helen are sitting down to an evening meal when her brother Liam bursts into their flat, claiming that he has come upon a person who has been attacked. Both Danny and Helen are initially taken in by his story but gradually his account, like his bloodstained shirt, and description of the injured person’s wounds gets ripped apart.

This uncovering of the truth is partly due to Helen’s attempts to stop Danny from calling the Police, as this could implicate her brother, who would be ‘fitted up’ because he has a Police record. Helen has always protected her brother from the law and wants Danny to ‘man up’ to protect his family. Danny – himself an assault victim – wants to help the injured person, but agrees to not call the Police. Liam says he has always looked up to Danny, a local lad with a good job, and in a strong relationship with Helen. The couple have a little boy and Helen tells Danny and Liam separately that she is in the early weeks of pregnancy.

As Liam’s lies come to light, the unconscious victim ‘speaks’, his ‘dead’ mobile phone starts to ring and it turns out that he is an Asian youth who was part of the gang that attacked Danny. Liam then explains that the person didn’t run away after he’d attacked him, but had taken him to a racist friend’s shed. Helen manipulates the situation by telling Danny to go there for the sake of their unborn child’s future, release the injured party, and ensure that he won’t tell the authorities what really happened.

Danny returns, sickened by the experiences he feels when he deals with the victim who, crucially, turns out to be not a dodgy youth, but a middle-aged Asian man. Helen finally loses it with her brother, telling him that the vicious beating he once gave a schoolboy prevented her from being fostered by a doctor’s family. Liam is ordered to leave the flat. In a final twist, Helen tells Danny she has decided to keep the baby and that they can grow as a family. Danny, however, tells her to get rid of it.

As Helen, Laura Ings Self gave us a convincing picture of a woman whose priority is always her family, prepared to manipulate people to keep them safe and in several scenes she used her hands like she was performing puppetry with great effect. Danny was played by BLT debutant Josh Ellison who carefully showed us a good citizen who just wants to work, come home to his family and ignore what’s going on outside his front door until forced to do something he doesn’t want to do in order to protect his family.

Another newcomer, George Brown, accurately portrayed Liam as a young man with a veneer of nicety towards his ‘family’ who is exposed as a violent psychopath, no better than the monsters outside.

The simple set of table, four chairs with a side cabinet dressed with a young child’s toys and scribbled wallpaper immersed us totally in that flat’s environment. Likewise, careful direction by Tony Jenner ensured that the audience remained fully engrossed in the unravelling events of the evening.

Having policed sink estates in South London myself, I am only too aware of the plight of those good ordinary people who have to live with the monsters outside their front door and thought that certain parts of the play echoed my ideas of their needs and aspirations. Well done to the cast and director on a powerful bar show.