Orphans by Lyle Kessler centres on two brothers live in a house in North Philly. Although adults, some of their mannerisms are incredibly childlike. The eldest, Treat, supports himself and his slightly autistic brother by mugging people in the street. However, when he attempts to kidnap and hold to ransom a man named Harold (Julian Hirst) they find themselves subject to this allusive man’s employment and teachings.
The play made its debut in California before travelling to New York for an off-Broadway run. This new production has landed in a studio space at the South Hill Arts Centre in Bracknell, staged by local production company JamPot and lives up to its billing. What could be a cheesy and overly sentimental play actually turns out to be moving throughout. This is mainly down to the complex and nuanced performances by the play’s two young leading cast members. Adam Foster perfectly balances Treat, bringing him perfectly close to the edge; his violent temper is wholly believable as he tries to contain emotions brought on by the loss of his parents and the responsibility of looking after his slightly autistic brother, Philip.
Meanwhile, Jake Addley’s portrayal as the childlike Philip is superb. Not for one minute does he lose the complete command he has over his body, all the time moving in a juvenile manner that reflects his vulnerability and endears us to him. As the play progresses he retains this simplicity of character whilst gaining confidence; because of this it is truly heartbreaking during the final act when you see him trying to piece back together a map that he believes will give him the freedom he craves which his brother has torn apart.
The interference of Harold in their lives could be deemed as a contrived plot device to teach the characters, and therefore the audience, about self-esteem and emotions. However, it is never contrived and never forced. The director Gerri Farrell has ensured the action is reigned in to match the script, only heightening the sense of oppressed emotions with the contrast of the 1980s music, Led Zeppelin poster and Converse shoes adding a fitting backdrop.
Overall the play manages to hit the right notes. It's emotional and touching because the actors managed to establish many layers to their characters, adding the interest and intrigue that pushes the story forward. An absolute delight.