24 Apr

Recently, as I passed my local RSL, I noticed posters for I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, the U2 Tribute Show, and Holding Back the Years, the Simply Red Tribute Show.

When I was younger, these sort of performers were called ‘cover bands’. I’m too uncool to know whether this term is still in fashion. However, I am cool enough not to be especially interested in this type of performance. I have no doubt the musicians in question are superb. In fact, they could well be better than the artists they are imitating. But still, there’s something less than satisfying about the form.

Few people seem to share my quibbles about what I call ‘cover theatre’. Whenever I see a local company produce a foreign play, or a play we have all seen before, I’m a little bemused. It feels like borrowed authority. Part of me wishes we could……I don’t know…… just transcend it.

Orphans is, of course, ‘cover theatre’. It’s also wonderfully done.

Photo by Rupert Reid

                   Photo by Rupert Reid

By Lyle Kessler, the play is set in Philadelphia’s underworld. (Why are artists attracted to stories about criminals? To quote the musical Chicago, is it because neither group ‘got enough love in their childhood’?)

Orphans is funny and thought-provoking. Director Anthony Gooley elicits from his cast terrific performances, deliberate hyperbolic, close kin to cartoon. It’s delightfully physical (which has its dangers; on the night I attended a crucial reveal came too early because a hidden prop suddenly popped into view.)

Treat and Philip (played by Andrew Henry and Aaron Glenane) are two adult orphans desperately in need of a father figure. Treat needs to learn moderation. Philip needs to learn to be brave. And so Harold arrives (played by Danny Adcock.) Harold might be a gangster, but he offers ‘encouragement’.

It’s an engaging production, with some powerful set pieces. Harold, who is also an orphan, speaks of the time he and the other orphans escaped the home where they were cruelly treated. They roamed the city, and then returned to the orphanage only when their hunger got the better of them. But “they had seen what they had to see.”

A play about parenting is a play about authority. We need it. And we need to transcend it.

Veronica Kaye

Orphans by Lyle Kessler

Old Fitz til 9 May


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