Brett Herriot Review

Orphans, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

“Truly magical, wonderful and inspiring “

**** 4 Stars

Peter Mullan’s pitch black comedy “Orphans” came to the screen in 1998 and won over audiences and critics alike with its humour and stark honesty telling the story of the Flynn family whose Mother Rose has just died leaving 3 sons and a daughter behind, set across one drawn out night in Glasgow they embark on a journey of virtue and sin and discover the unbreakable bond of love that will carry them forward.

Nearly a quarter of a century later and with Mullan’s blessing the Flynn family are back in musical adaptation as the latest offering from the National Theatre of Scotland. The pitch black comedy remains intact as does the films plot line which is expanded more fully.

This production is shining example of wonderful performances delivered by a top drawer ensemble of character actors at the top of their game. Special mention must go to Robert Florence as Thomas the eldest brother who wrestles with doing right by his mammy but also his sense of loss, it’s a beguiling performance from start to finish.  Same is true of the simply wonderful Louise McCarthy in the role of Mrs Hanson, her ability to play multiple characters and imbue each and everyone with a uniqueness all of their own is testament to her talents. The trickiest role in the show is “Sheila” played with astonishing grace by Amy Conachan. The movie version of Sheila was almost mute where as Conachan has a delivered a fully rounded character that takes the audience beyond disability into the heart of girl who just wants to be heard. She has a stunning voice to boot!

Across the entire 15 strong company there is not a single weak performance, perfectly judged comedy acting, sparkling vocals combine to get every inch of truth from Douglas Maxwell’s Book along with Tommy Reilly and Roddy Harts music and lyrics.

The music has a rich pop but also Scottish flavour to it and leaves catchy Rhythms in the head, and while there is no live band it’s a fresh sound with permeates the Kings.

Where the show doesn’t work so well is its excessive length, the original movie was 1 hour and 42 minutes, this musical runs over the 3 hour mark and by the end the audience are feeling the pace especially due the set from designer Emily James which looms large over a highly raised King’s stage, it’s very clunky with technicians often coming into view to solve issues or give the tenements a good shove.  The additional seconds it takes for this soon mount up adding to the already long run time.

It clear Director Cora Bissett assisted by Niloo Far Khan have illicit stunning performances from the cast that shine across the footlights flowing from dark humour, to laugh out loud comedy moments to deep pathos draw from human emotion at its rawest. It’s truly magical, wonderful and inspiring in equal measure.

Technically Emily James Set and costume design is stunning visually and inspiring it its ability to open up the Glasgow world the orphans inhabit, but if the set changes could be smoother or indeed simplified it would bolster the production no end.  Lizzie Powell’s lighting design is magnificent taking us through the darkness of a stormy night to the daylight of dawn its incredible evocative. The same is true of Pippa Murphy’s sound design.

Orphans come to Edinburgh following a run at the SEC Armadillo in Glasgow and its clear this production pushes the King’s to its absolute limits.

Orphans continues to hold a unique place in the heart of Scottish arts and this production truly showcases the National Theatre of Scotland at what it does best, delivering unforgettable theatre that makes Scotland proud. If the transitions could be smoother and the run time brought down a true 5 star piece of musical theatre is in this production.

For an epic night of musical theatre the King’s Edinburgh is the place to be this week so grab those tickets now!

National Theatre of Scotland presents Orphans, King’s Theatre Edinburgh; Runs until Saturday 16th April, Then Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, for tickets go to:


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