Orphans | Stacks On Theatre

Image by Chrissy Maguire

This review comes from Night Writes guest reviewer Josephine Lee

Is a peaceful domestic dream life still possible in our violent reality? Orphans by Dennis Kelly is an electrifying tale about a middle-class couple, Helen and Danny, who are trying to have a normal domestic life until Liam, Helen’s brother, enters covered in blood, turning their dinner and life on their heads. What unfolds is a series of twists and turns of violence and racism, raising the question of whether a peaceful and domestic life is possible in a violent world.

What was incredibly striking about this production was how well its environment best suited the play. On the outside, the venue, Flow Studios in Camperdown, appeared to be a warehouse as its main entrance was a giant metal roller door. But, upon entering, it appeared to be the common room of a share house or apartment. As I sat down and watched the show, I became immersed in the familiar family aesthetic and smells of the young couple’s living room, and Terri Brabon’s rain sound design during the dramatic storm scene, which slowly grew to be more immersive at the climatic moments. I then marvelled at the flashes of lighting effects through the upstairs windows of the theatre, awed by the design’s detailed naturalism, until the rain’s volume began to exceed actors’ and I realised, “It’s actually raining outside.”

Despite the well-timed thunderous weather, the performance itself was strikingly electrical. Kelly’s writing shifted the story like a drag racer, raising the stakes at each violent and dramatic turn, keeping the audience on their feet as they pivoted along with the story. Director Terri Brabon effectively balanced the naturalistic storytelling with glitches of the characters in action, creating temporary tabloids – snapshots – of their decisions and reactions. By doing this, it allowed the audience’s minds to breathe and process the events but also highlighted the incongruency between our peaceful domestic dream life and the violent reality of the world.

The dynamics and relationships between the characters were not only electrified by the writing, but by the acting, as well. Lachlan Stevenson’s balanced performance of Liam provokingly pushed us away in fear and discomfort with his racism, violence, and mental instability but drew us in with sympathy by his comedic and naïve charm. James Thomasson portrayed the growth of Danny with care and control, initially acting as an innocent, selfish, and cowardly bystander, who was swayed by Helen into helping her brother with the bloody mess he’d gotten himself stuck into, and finished with a backbone. But watching Brittany Santariga’s desperate yet determined Helen try to grasp and pull whatever strings she could muster to protect her brother within the dynamics of a wife to Danny and a loving sister to Liam was pulsating. As the story progressed, you can feel her long-term fatigue of trying to save her brother out of every situation.

Though the Islamic and Jihadist terrorist context of the play felt dated, the violent, racist attacks and behaviour portrayed in the play did not. And although there is still the argument of white people being less racist and more inclusive today, the violence still lives, especially in a time of anti-Russian and anti-Asian hate, this play is something one needs to see.

Orphans is running at Flow Studios from March 18th – 27th

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