Orphans by Dennis Kelly (23 Jun – 9 Jul)
Orphans is a hard-edged, fast paced and inventive thriller. To get a glimpse into playwright Dennis Kelly’s inner workings we’ve done some googling and one of the best interviews with the playwright is Andrew Dickson’s for The Guardian the full interview is available here. Below is a teaser, and a glimpse into what will be hitting our stage in June next year.Playwright Dennis Kelly: ‘I like to feel fear’ by Andrew Dickson
The playwright Dennis Kelly is pondering good and evil. Mainly evil, specifically why there is so much of it in his work. “I genuinely don’t try to write dark things,” he says. “I like to be immersed in theatre, to feel fear, strong emotions. Perhaps it’s an animal thing â€“ we have to know what hurts us.” He laughs: “That’s not really a reason, is it?”
Perhaps not. What is certain is that Kelly’s plays don’t make for easy watching. His debut, Debris, opened with an actor telling the audience about the crucifix his father erected in the living room. His second, Osama the Hero, climaxed with a stomach-churning scene in which one character was strapped to a chair before having his teeth knocked out with a hammer. Now there’s Orphans, which opened to rapturous reviews in Edinburgh this month and won two new writing awards; it starts with a blood-soaked man bursting in on a couple having dinner, and turns nastier from there.
“Maybe it’s good that I get it out,” Kelly continues, “otherwise I’d end up killing people.” This garrulous, mildly scruffy 40-year-old is an improbable mass murderer, but his work does suggest that violence can erupt in the most unlikely places. In Orphans, that gruesome first scene turns into something far stranger, a haphazard story about a knife attack that may or may not have happened, told by a man who may or may not have committed it.
Kelly says he began with a single opening image. “In my mind there was a guy covered in blood, and two people having dinner, and then it was a matter of finding out who those people were. I don’t know what I’m going to write about when I start â€“ I just know the areas I want to write around.” The play carries echoes of Abu Ghraib and hostages in Iraq, but also covers issues closer to home: knife crime, abortion, the alienation of the white working-class, the effects of immigration. The couple at the table turn out to be the orphans of the play’s title, but they are also, Kelly suggests, symbols of much larger fractures in society.
Kelly likes these big, topical themes. His play Love and Money, which opened in late 2006, just as the credit bubble was at its biggest, counted the human cost of getting into debt, while lingering on the desirability of material possessions. DNA, written last year for the National Theatre, centred on a gang of teenagers who believe they have killed a child, and then attempt to cover it up.
“One of the great things about writing in this country is that we write about what happens now,” Kelly explains. “But you have to write what you believe. A play about love is just as important as a play about global terrorism. It has to come from you. If you’re lucky, that coincides with stuff that other people are thinking about.”
That doesn’t just hold for terrorism or knife crime, either. Alongside his theatre work, Kelly has led a double life: with Sharon Horgan, he is co-creator and writer of BBC3′s brilliantly off-kilter Pulling, a wickedly funny and acutely observed portrait of the lives of three thirtysomething women. Pulling, Kelly admits, was more or less autobiographical, the story of his and Horgan’s miserable attempts to find happiness, more often than not at the bottom of a vodka glass (he has been teetotal for eight years).
Kelly left school at 16 and discovered theatre while doing a succession of dead-end jobs, later graduating in drama from Goldsmiths in London. He didn’t finish Debris until he was 33, but says his slow start was no bad thing. “I genuinely like writing,” he says. “I came to it older than most writers, so I did a lot of shitty jobs beforehand, which I hated. This is a good job.”
A film about an alcoholic father searching for his daughter is in the pipeline, as are new commissions from the RSC, the National Theatre of Scotland and the Donmar. Orphans will travel to Birmingham in September and London soon afterwards.
For all the bleakness in Kelly’s work, theatre has clearly proved some sort of salvation. “I still can’t quite believe I’m a writer,” he says, looking genuinely bemused. “I think that at any minute it’s all going to go tits-up. It can’t possibly carry on for much longer. Can it?”
The Guardian, UK.