‘Orphans’ (National Theatre of Scotland) | Review By Lewis C. Baird

National Theatre of Scotland’s brand-new original musical ‘Orphans’ is currently in the midst of it’s debut Scottish tour, running at Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre till Saturday 16th April. Based on the Peter Mullan movie set in Glasgow, 1998. One hell of a storm is ripping through the city. The Flynn siblings just need to survive the night and make it to their mother’s funeral in the morning. Thomas won’t leave the church. Michael is bleeding out and roaming the streets. John has a gun and a taste for revenge. And Sheila can’t wait to live life on her own terms. But things like this bring a family together, right? 

Robert Florence radiates emotion and comedy as Thomas. This is Robert’s first dip into musical theatre, he impresses audiences with his beautiful vocals, especially during ‘Safe with You’. The despair laced with comic nuances in Robert’s portrayal is so natural and brings such depth to Thomas. This is a standout performance from a great Scottish actor. 

Ruben Joseph brings us a broken man as Michael. Ruben dives deep into the dark and flawed world of Michael, truly showing the pain and hatred that Michael has for himself. This is an intense portrayal that perfectly depicts the dark social issues featured in ‘Orphans’, at points however you do wonder whether there could have been a lighter approach to some dialogue to soften the darkness explored in the character’s journey. Sadly, on the press evening in Edinburgh it seemed that the audience did not experience the climax of Michael’s journey correctly as there looked to be a technical issue with the set, therefore we didn’t get to experience the character’s full journey. 

Photo Credit; Mihaela Bodlovic

Amy Conachan portrays Sheila with such heart and confidence, the clear realism and relatability that Amy has to Sheila makes her performance so endearing. The struggles she faces for not only her family to take her seriously but also people in general is a strong message that resonates with the audience thanks to Amy’s open approach to the character.  

Dylan Wood shows such raw emotion as John, the youngest sibling of the Flynn family. Dylan’s singing is stunning in this production especially in ‘A Storm is Coming’. The pain and confusion John is going through is shown with such gullibility alluding to his narrow mindedness due to his young age. John’s drive to kill Duncan is shown with such energy and disturbing emotion, this is a strong performance from Dylan. 

Harry Ward is hilarious as Tanga, the Glaswegian thug. Harry brings great lighthearted humour to this character as well as deep rage at the world around him. The shift in the character really shows Harry’s versatility and a darker side to what is initially a comic supporting character. 

The rest of the cast in this production are a dynamic ensemble, shifting into different roles seamlessly. Louise McCarthy and John McLarnon play a multitude of different characters but their best is the infamous bar owners, the Hansons. ‘Time is Time’ is possibly the best number in the show, thanks to the superb wit and energy from Louise and John. Paul McCole delivers the lightest and most hilarious number in the show, ‘Every C*nt Should Love Every C*nt’. While performing the rather cheeky number, Paul represents every Glaswegian father that has had a wee bit too much to drink, and loses their filter. It’s a hilarious performance. 

Photo Credit; Mihaela Bodlovic

Amber Sylvia Edwards, Chloe Hodgson and Betty Valencia also have a fair share of portrayals in this production but by far their most endearing is the paper girls, ‘One of Us’ is a cracking song and these three performers give all their energy to giving the audience one hell of a performance. Patricia Panther shows kindness, care and empathy as Sara, this is a lovely role, plus it’s great to see one of the original ‘Glasgow Girls’ cast join Cora Bissett on this new venture. Martin Quinn does well to bring us a fine interpretation of a ned, but his best portrayal is the minister at the funeral, his deadpan comedy is hilarious. Charlie West is also hilarious as Henry, the toff trapped in the Hanson’s pub. Daniella Faakor Damptey brought such energy to the stage as multiple roles, and she was giving it yaldi during ‘Right Where You Belong’. 

Cora Bissett’s direction for this musical ignites darkness, provides vulgar yet sidesplitting comedy, and profound raw emotional scenes. Cora embraces the unfiltered scope on Scotland and is not afraid to show the ugly side of Scotland’s social problems. There is the beauty of the Scottish people’s resilience, but there is also the dark working-class struggle. Douglas Maxwell’s script to this production is true to Peter Mullan’s original screenplay, as he attempts to capture the same tone for the stage adaption. The rich darkness of this story is very much present, however you can’t help but feel that for a dark comedy, the humour is lacking at points. Nonetheless, Douglas stays true to the original film which many fans of ‘Orphans’ will be pleased to hear. One thing which was an issue was the pace, there’s some scenes that are perfectly fast-paced, but there are others that could do with cutting some dialogue or being cut completely.

Tommy Reilly and Roddy Hart cook up the best original music and lyrics for any musical in Scottish Theatre history. The score for this musical instantly makes an impression with it’s bold, brash, beautiful and loud variation in style, taking inspiration from orchestral music, rave music and modern pop. Tommy and Roddy truly are the heroes of this production, by lifting scenes with such a superb score. Emily James’ set is utterly stunning, it captures Glasgow’s tenements perfectly and supplies a gorgeous eerie setting. Minus the tech issues, this is by far one of the greatest sets I’ve seen in Scottish theatre. Lizzie Powell’s lighting design helps lift and also further darken Emily’s design. 

‘Orphans’ is a fantastic new musical crackling with grit, vulgar comedy and a dark scope on a working-class Scottish family. For a debut tour, ‘Orphans’ has the potential to be tweaked into a sensation. Catch it while you can. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Get tickets for ‘Orphans’ at Capital Theatres here:

https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/nts-orphans

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