Paul Johnson | 30 Sep 2014 07:00am
Having watched an excellent production of Lyle Kessler’s ‘Orphans’ earlier this year in a much smaller venue I was intrigued to see how Erith Playhouse would stage this highly intense three hander. Brothers Treat and Phillip have been living alone since the death of their mother. Treat provides for himself and his brother through the proceeds of muggings at knife point, while Phillip remains housebound by his protective older brother, who convinces him that any excursion into the outside world will bring about a severe allergic reaction.
The arrival of Harold, a Chicago gangster, adds a further dynamic to the mix. The classic infiltration of a stranger is vaguely Pinteresque, but despite the fact that Treat believes he has hit the jackpot and can extort a huge ransom for Harold’s safe return, it is not long before the suavely, manipulative stranger has released himself from the ropes that tied him and won over the innocent Phillip. Becoming a father figure to the two boys Harold gradually begins to rein in the violent streak in Treat and instill confidence in the fragile Phillip, whilst using the house as a bolthole to hide from the mob.
The changing relationships between the three characters was very clearly defined in Peter Sapi’s tightly directed production. It was clear from the beginning of Act Two, with the makeover of the house that Harold’s influence was everywhere. From the change in costume, to the eating of bouillabaisse life would never be quite the same for the two brothers. The tension built up steadily through the production and Sapi’s direction helped to create the relationship in a realistic manner, allowing the power to shift between the characters as their relationships grew and became established. Playing off each other the director has the characters making us laugh one minute and then feel the total poignancy of their situation.
Piers Newman as Treat was full of prickly, frustrated energy. He clearly showed the sense of the pain that loss and rejection had brought to his character. The wide gamut of emotions that he needed to show were skilfully transformed into the character, ranging from a hardened criminal to a sobbing child, in the final scene. Newman’s performance had us begin by actively disliking Treat, with the constant underlying anger, always ready to boil over at any point, but end with a feeling of empathy as we see him break down at Harold’s departure and regret the missed opportunity of really engaging with a father’s ‘encouragement’.
Daniel O’Brien as Phillip begins his performance as the lights come up in a long scene where he is alone on the stage going about his daily routine. We quickly see established the way he hides from his brother, such as his going upstairs and hugging a shoe. With minimal dialogue O’Brien creates the character – an adult with the emotional capabilities of a child. An excellent performance there was however a tendency to behave like Frank Spencer which was slightly disconcerting, although the amazingly agile performance, jumping over sofas and onto window sills, was both impressive and enjoyable to watch, clearly showing that behind the jittery, gauche nature there is a quite perceptive mind.
Richard Self quickly establishes for the audience that Harold is not all that he seems. He slips out of the ropes that bind him and takes on a new persona, no longer a slightly shambling drunk, but someone who sees his own childhood reflected in the two orphans. The compassion with which he takes on the role of parent helps to establish an underlining trace of tenderness, bringing a new sense of peace and order into the chaotic lives of the boys. This performance had some excellent comic timing with the slightly dead pan responses to the more flamboyant desires of Treat and the fact that maps are available atanygas station.
The stage at Erith Playhouse is large and open. Although there were some great touchs with the set I would have liked the whole thing to have been scaled down to create a slightly claustrophobic feel. I was also disappointed that the beginning of the change over to Act Two took place partly in front of the curtains, spoiling the surprise for anyone who did not know the play already. The neatness of the house clearly showed the influence of Harold, although the television placed where it was did obscure the view slightly from some seats. I would also have liked to see a greater change to the actual walls themselves.
Costumes also played a key part in helping us recognise the change in the characters. The ubiquitous yellow shoes, which needed to have been put on in front stage, rather than behind a sofa that blocked the audience view, and the Pierre Cardin suit, which perhaps needed to be slightly more expensive and sharp, all helped to reinforce the change in the brothers’ fortune.
Lighting too was used discretely to create the mood within the play. The final moments in particular were extremely atmospheric, leaving the audience heartbroken alongside the brothers, as the three characters were picked out in two spotlights.
If you have time this week I would strongly advise you to head down to Erith and catch this production. Although a little lacking in pace this was only the first night and as the show tightens up and the actors pick up on cues a little quicker this piece will become better and better, definitely one to try to go and see.
- : admin
- : 29/09/2014