Well no, Jonas Armstrong wasn't in this play, but I'm using this avatar because Orphans
stars the other
J. Armstrong from Robin Hood
- Allan-a-Dale himself, Joe Armstrong. Not that he's second prize by any means - in the unlikely event I was given the opportunity I'd find it hard to choose between them, and if Joe had done a nudie scene in a film I'd probably have an avatar of that as well. I mean, there's still time for him to get his bits out in a film if he wants... no? Oh well. Anyway, I managed a front-row seat so I can say that although he wasn't having a good skin day, I still would.
OK, hormones out of the way this is actually a very dark play, although with moments of very strong comedy, which I always find helps me engage even more when tragic events unfold. Dennis Kelly's play starts with an arresting image - after easy listening music has been playing while the audience takes their seats, Helen (Claire-Louise Cordwell) and Danny (Jonathan McGuinness) are in their dining room having a romantic dinner, staring in horror at the door where Helen's brother Liam (Armstrong) has just appeared, covered in blood. The Orphans of the title are Helen and Liam who lost their parents when they were very young, were moved around various foster homes and this has defined their relationship, including the way they respond to what happens tonight. The blood is not Liam's own, it belongs to a kid from a local gang who was stabbed in the street, and whom he tried to help. Helen says they mustn't alert the police because Liam has a record and might get the blame. But as the night goes on we discover he's not as innocent as he made out, and it starts to look increasingly like he committed a racially-motivated attack.
What really sucks you into the play is how it's structured around the constantly changing story of what Liam did, as we discover more and more abhorrent details and find out just how much Helen can forgive her brother for. In the process, her relationship with her husband is put under pressure. Roxanna Silbert's production feels a lot shorter than its 1 hour and 45 minutes, Armstrong is happily more than a pretty face and gives a convincing performance in a role where the audience's attitude towards him has to change so many times, and Cordwell and McGuinness are also excellent (although the latter's open-mouthed reaction to many of the revelations was at times unintentionally funny.) I also loved designer Garance Marneur's oppressive-looking set, gaps between the cosy walls of the dining room showing prison bars looming behind them. As well as a strong opening Kelly also delivers one last punch to the gut in the closing moments which made a lot of people near me audibly gasp.Orphans
by Dennis Kelly is booking until the 24th of October at Soho Theatre (but is sold out.)