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13 November 2014

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You are in: Birmingham > Entertainment > Theatre and Dance > Play that’s the talk of the Fringe

Playwright Dennis Kelly

Playwright Dennis Kelly

Play that’s the talk of the Fringe

Dennis Kelly’s psychological thriller – Orphans – opens in Birmingham in September 2009 after receiving rave reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe.

40 year old Dennis Kelly is a London-based writer for both theatre and television. He was a late starter, writing his first work – Debris - when he was 30.

The main characters Helen and Danny - played by Claire-Louise Cordwell and Jonathan McGuinness

The main characters Helen and Danny

He’s best known for his dark style of writing: In his second play, Osama the Hero, the final scene ends with a man having his teeth knocked out with a hammer.

His TV work, on the other hand, is a complete contrast. He co-wrote the popular BBC3 sitcom Pulling, which is a comedy about three single girls having to make the same boring choices about sex, love and friendship.

His new play Orphans is a co-production of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre and Traverse Theatre. It comes to the Rep from 10th to 26th September before transferring to London’s Soho Theatre.

Climate of fear

It starts with a couple having dinner. Then a man turns up covered in blood and the evening turns more chilling from there.

Scene from play

Scene from play

Describing the story Dennis Kelly says: "the play is about unfolding those events. He (the man covered in blood) says he found a person who had been stabbed and he tried to help them. As the play goes on you realise he might have had more to do with that, than he first let on."

Like his previous work, the themes are topical. His play Love and Money, counted the cost of getting into debt, at the height of the credit boom in 2006.

In Orphans, Dennis recalls: "I had the first image in my mind but there was some stuff I wanted to talk about that was around the issue, like living in a climate of fear that we all seem to do at the moment. What it’s like to live in an area where you feel like at any time you could be hurt."

Psychological thriller

Watching it is probably a bit like watching a horror film at the cinema. "It's quite tense, it's quite a tense evening," he admits. "They've sort of described it as a psychological thriller and I think that's not unfair."

A scene from Orphans - Actress Claire-Louise Cordwell plays Helen and Jonathan McGuinness plays Danny

A scene from Orphans

"We sort of tend to look down on things like suspense in theatre and I think that's a great shame," he says. "I think those things are originally theatrical devices that have been borrowed by film and by TV and there is no reason why we shouldn't reclaim them."

And Dennis isn’t a fan of theatre that doesn’t engage the emotions. "If you've got a choice between intellect and emotion I think you should always go for emotion because it's a very emotional medium," he argues. "I mean the best theatre is emotion backed up with intellect but - like I say - if you have a choice you're better off going for emotion."


Orphans opened to rapturous reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe last month. Among them was the Times, which said: "Kelly starts the tension at full blast and tightens it from there. Three terrific performances, brittle, edgy and frightened."

"This creepy tale builds an atmosphere that lingers long after the curtain call." said The Independent.

Liam and Danny from the play - played by Joe Armstrong and Jonathan McGuinness

Liam and Danny from the play

It also won two new writing awards in Edinburgh; The Fringe First and a Herald Angel award.

Talking about its success Dennis is humble: "It was a bit of a surprise really, I mean I'm always surprised when people like something I've written. It's been a great response. I haven't really read any reviews but I've heard they're very good and I've seen quotes and I've seen stars and things like that."

"The audience response has been brilliant as well," he says. "I mean it's a difficult play, it's not an easy play to sit through and by the end of it some people feel a bit battered I suppose. But hopefully that's in a good way."

last updated: 03/09/2009 at 15:35
created: 01/09/2009

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