It’s the night before Rose Flynn’s funeral, and her children need to come to terms with their loss. Now they’ll face the future without their mother, but they need her more than ever. Eldest son Thomas grips onto his façade as family rock by guarding Rose’ coffin all night in the church. Michael has been stabbed in a pub brawl and must keep awake all night or else he’ll succumb to his potentially fatal injury. John wants revenge for his brother’s stabbing and Sheila has one last night of freedom before she becomes the new matriarch to her troubled brotherly trio.
Orphans is a hilarious black comedy, that confronts life’s questions head on, directed by Scottish theatre treasure, Cora Bisset. It’s a joyful celebration of the stages of grief, of the connection of family and the importance of communities. Its statement is simple. Death doesn’t equal vanishing forever into the abyss, but rather, lives well lived find their sentiments echoed on into eternity. Yes, that does seem like heavy going, but when it’s so digestible when it’s served wrapped up in a brilliant score and a book that celebrates the beauty of Scots dialect by Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly. Not only is the score beautifully composed, the lyrics touching and funny in equal parts and it’s got some numbers you’ll be humming in the days to come. But most importantly, it’s a celebration of all that’s great about Scottish humor and dialect, even the aspects deemed too colourful for radio. The heavy stuff feels so much more human and easier to comprehend it’s expressed in the Glaswegian vernacular. The only thing that would have made it better would have been a live band.
Robert Florence makes his National Theatre Scotland and musical theatre debut as Thomas Flynn. Although his comic experience really comes to the fore with a rather comic interlude with an icon of the Virgin Mary, his highlight is his strong vocal performances- Safe with You is one of the show’s highlights. Dylan Wood and Reuben Joseph both give exceptional performances as Michael and John. Joseph keeps the pained stamina going all night as he battles his injury while Wood captures the youth and anger of John with comic flair. Both Joseph and John give really enjoyable vocal performances. Amy Coachman is a fantastic Sheila, balancing strength and vulnerability, taking the audience on her journey from reluctant sibling to fully fledged family leader.
The cast are joined on stage by a strong ensemble who bring the score to life. From pub patrons to fairground goers they colour each number with great supporting vocals and Vicky Manderson’s choreography with tremendous energy.
Glasgow is alive and kicking. Emily James’ set design is not just stunning, it’s a character in its own right. James has adorned the stage in the beautiful well known red brick of Glasgow’s tenements. Shifting and sliding and spinning, we’re taken down the back alley ways of Glasgow, to the auspicious parts of the West End and in and out of the pubs. Evoking the warmth of Avril Paton’s much loved painting, Windows in The West, this set is a touching homage to the city and is as much of a joy to watch as the action on stage.
National Theatre of Scotland have done what they do best- celebrating Scottish culture, dialect and talent on the best stages in the country. You won’t be disappointed.
Orphans is at the King’s Theatre Edinburgh until Saturday 16th April. https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/nts-orphans
Reviewer: Melissa Jones
Reviewed: 12th April 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★