Beginning like a punch in the stomach, Dennis Kelly’s hard-hitting drama Orphans allows the audience to witness the startling momentum with which the fabric of your life can unravel leaving you in an utterly unrecognisable state.
Orphaned as young children, losing less than desirable parents, Helen and Liam grew up together as one unit, relying on each other as their only family. Now adults, Liam is still as reliant on his sister, sharing more of a paternal relationship and idolising Helen’s husband almost as the father he never had the chance to know. But when he turns up at their door one evening, covered in another person’s blood and rambling about the events of the evening, all their lives quickly descend into freefall.
As the evening progresses, what began as a celebration for newly pregnant Helen and her doting husband Danny, turns into a horrific nightmare. As Liam’s version of how he ended up soaked in blood gradually changes, the boundaries of loyalty are pushed to the very limit as the twisted ideas Helen and Liam attribute to being a family cause their lives to come crashing down around them, one piece at a time.
At the centre of Orphans is the relationship Helen has with the two men staring at her for answers throughout the play. Her husband is together, kind and clearly devoted to his wife, who cannot cope with her life being anything less than the perfect image of a family she dreamt up in her foster home childhood. Liam, bumbling and awkward, has clearly been affected more severely by the lack of stability he has lived with. Childish and inappropriate, beneath his seeming wide-eyed innocence and fragility hides an extremely troubled man whose hatred and disappointment with the world causes extreme, undeniably evil actions he can barely comprehend or remember.
Set in the couple’s generic dining room for the entirety of the play, outside the house are vast bar gates, the characters trapped in their own prison, scared of the world and people beyond the house walls. Their speech, peppered with repeated sentences, ‘maybes’, ‘buts, and ‘erms’ is disconcertingly natural, making the play seem frighteningly real.
Dark, bleak and at times unquestionably shocking, Orphans is a powerful and compelling thriller that draws you too close for comfort into the minds of the lost characters spiralling out of control.