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Orphans (Edinburgh & tour)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Dennis Kelly, the brilliant dramatist almost taking the British theatre by stealth, has an important new play at the Traverse despite the familiarity of its themes of incipient incest, racist violence and parturition (to have, or have not, babies).

You do sometimes wonder whether playwrights inhabit the same world as us, or a creative limbo where you write plays on the hot topics. But Kelly is a master of suspense, half-finished sentences that convey full meaning, buried aggravation and sexual ambiguity. In this play he sounds more like a Pinter disciple than ever. Roxana Silbert’s production is two hours of high excitement, needlessly (and somewhat damagingly), interrupted by an interval.

Helen (Claire-Louise Cordwell) is married to Danny (Jonathan McGuinness) but closer to her brother Liam (Joe Armstrong), who turns up covered in blood. The siblings’ parents died in a fire.

It’s hell out there, and smoke is billowing around the edges of Garance Marneur’s appropriately banal floral wall-papered grey interior. A boy has been assaulted, “some Islamic man on his way home” has run into trouble and Helen and Danny are locking horns over the next child…

It’s compelling, disturbing stuff, and Kelly doesn’t flinch from making his characters thoroughly dislikeable. The show’s a notable collaboration between the Traverse, Birmingham Rep and Paines Plough.

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