There’s an upbeat, earworm of a song that sits at the heart of the National Theatre Of Scotland’s new musical, Orphans – but it’s one you’re never going to hear Elaine Paige play on her Sunday afternoon show.
For all its cheerful and heartfelt message about how we should all love each other, the language is fruity, or earthy – take your pick – with a word you won’t be reading here.
But that gloriously unashamed use of the term we dare not write is the benchmark of this superb musical that blends pitch-black comedy with gut-wrenching humanity played out on a stormy night in Glasgow – with the city itself running through the soul of the piece.
Now, it is a bold move to take Peter Mullan’s award-winning and cult movie Orphans – about four siblings gathering on the night before their mother’s funeral – and decide it would work as a musical.
Orphans at Eden Court sings in every sense of the word
But work it certainly does, with music and lyrics from Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly, that makes this Orphans sing in every sense of the word.
Muscular when it needs to be – very muscular at times given the often very gritty turns of the plot – and tender when it is driving home the humanity of Mullan’s story there isn’t an ounce of padding or filler here.
Every song, every line, every note is working to drive the narrative forward, to punch home the big themes of grief, forgiveness and family.
It must be said, if they hand out theatre awards for the sweariest musical, then Orphans would need a forklift to get them home. But that just loops back to an honest story being told in the language of the characters we are seeing on stage.
And what characters they are – the Flynn siblings whose “quick pint” the night before their mum’s funeral turns into an odyssey of mishaps, bloodshed, discovery, and redemption. All of this played out in an at times nightmarish parade of the underbelly of Glasgow and the denizens who live on the city’s fringes,
Orphans will keep you on the edge of your seat
Take it from that there is lots of tension. The Eden Court audience were on the edge of their seats fairly often. But not without laughs. There are many of those.
Also, there was a fair bit of the evening marvelling at the simply astonishing set and lighting – huge shout out to set and costume designer Emily James and lighting designer Lizzie Powell.
They have put Glasgow on stage, from low pubs to high tenements, and done it in such a way that is almost cinematic, always moving, blending one scene into the next. Who knew you could watch actors walk off the street through a pub door as it revolved to catch them on the other side walking into said pub?
At one point there’s an actual funfair in front of you. It’s just astonishing.
Orphans, though, is about people. Ordinary, troubled, remarkable people. And the people on the stage are wonderful.
The heavy lifting goes to the four siblings, naturally, and each actor lives, breathes and sings the role as each character deals with their grief differently.
Robert Florence brings comic notes to pious older brother Thomas, determined to complete his chapel vigil beside his mother’s coffin.
Dylan Wood is outstanding as the rage-filled younger brother John, out for vengeance after his hair-trigger tempered brother Michael – a brilliant take from Reuben Joseph – is stabbed in a pub brawl.
Orphans at Eden Court is full of outstanding moments
Amy Conachan as wheelchair-using Sheila puts in a star turn as the sister who tried so hard to be “the easy one” for their mum. Her journey from facing an uncertain future to being the one that helps the family finally realise “together we can weather the storm” helps bind this spellbinding story.
Orphans is a show full of outstanding moments – the papergirls sequence is brilliance on a stick and Michael’s duet with his ex-wife is mesmerising – packed with big song and dance numbers and haunting solos.
It all underlines the fact director Cora Bissett has created a work that will last long after the Scottish tour ends at Eden Court. It might even be an instant classic.
And if nothing else, it has given the world an uplifting anthem for loving each other. Even if we can’t say what it is.
Orphans is at Eden Court until Saturday. For tickets and information, visit eden-court.co.uk
You might also like…