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Micaela Levesque reviews the outlandish dark comedy on its opening night.

Don’t let the title fool you, Orphans is the most delightful play about dead mothers you will possibly ever see. The dark comedy pop musical from the National Theatre of Scotland stopped in Glasgow this weekend at the SEC Armadillo. It treated the audience to a spectacle of song, dance, and drama all set against the backdrop of Glasgow’s own tenements. 

Following the story of four siblings the night before their mother’s funeral, Orphans explores the various and often messy methods for processing the death of a loved one. Thomas (Robert Florence), the oldest sibling, has tasked himself with watching their mother’s coffin through the night and carries his duty to a fault. Younger sons Michael (Reuben Joseph) and John (Dylan Wood) become involved in a series of violence and vengeance while daughter Sheila (Amy Conachan) seeks a night of independence and freedom from her overbearing family. 

All four leading actors carry the audience through the emotional heights of the night with impressive skill, whiplashing between comedic pub scenes and intense solos with grace. However, the show’s promotional material buried the lead with their presentation of the production. The leading actors, dark setting, and serious subject matter run throughout the play but the real soul of the production comes through in moments of joy crafted by the ensemble. With the help of movement director Vicki Manderson’s choreography, the ensemble is able to create fun and chaotic conditions that allow the leading roles to shine. In particular, the performances from Harry Ward as John’s weapon-supplying cousin and Amber Edwards as Sheila’s paper delivery girl help situate the audience in an emotionally vulnerable place, where they are able to experience the core tensions of the show with honesty and intensity. The play ultimately finds success the same way its characters do, by embracing support and community rather than going it alone. 

Hart and Reilly did not shy away from their first stage musical. Delighted is the actor, namely John Mclarnon portraying Duncan, who discovers that their big number in the show is a rollicking karaoke performance of a tune titled “Every Cunt Should Love Every Cunt”. Even more delighted is the audience, who is able to balance a topic as heavy as grief with music and dance. I am looking forward to the day I can stream the cast album on Spotify when I’m out and about on a rain-drenched afternoon in Glasgow. 

The testament to a good show is the quality of chatter in the post-show toilet queue. After the three hour performance on Thursday night, I could hear women thrilled with the evening— both because of the performances and because of their whopping glasses of  wine. A woman I saw reconnecting with her party in the lobby wiped a tear from her eye, saying the final number “just got to her” to her chuckling pal. Orphans is the perfect musical night out for anyone in Glasgow. It is the most fun an evening about grief can possibly be.


Orphans Scottish tour continues in Edinburgh and Inverness until 30 April. Full dates and tickets can be found via the National Theatre of Scotland here.


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