Orphans (Dennis Kelly play)

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This article is about the play by Dennis Kelly. For the play by Lyle Kessler, see Orphans (Lyle Kessler play).
Written by Dennis Kelly
Characters Helen
Date premiered 9 August 2009
Place premiered Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh
Original language English
Genre Drama

Orphans is a 2009 play by London playwright Dennis Kelly, an exploration of violence in urban areas. Kelly said “I always want my plays to have tension; whether the audience hates it or loves it is up to them, but I never want them to be bored.” [1]


Helen and her husband Danny are celebrating the news that Helen is newly pregnant with their second child with a quiet night in, but it is interrupted by Helen's brother Liam, who arrives covered in blood claiming to have found a young lad injured on the street. When Liam's recollection of the event begins to change under questioning, suspicions are aroused followed by increasing concern that he may have been more involved than first thought. Liam and Helen explains the events stage by stage causing him to accidentally reveal that Danny and Helen had a twisted sexual affair for years without anyone knowing. The play ends with Danny and Helen having sex on stage.


  • Helen was orphaned after a fire and brought up in care with her brother Liam. She is Danny's wife and is newly pregnant with her second child.
  • Danny is Helen's husband.
  • Liam was orphaned after a fire and brought up in care, and is grateful to his sister believing that she is the reason they were never separated.
  • Shane is Helen and Danny's five-year-old son. (Non-speaking part.)

Stage Productions[edit]

Roxana Silbert directed the first production of this play, which premiered at the Traverse Theatre Edinburgh in August 2009,[2] followed by a short run at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre[3] in September, and finally the Soho Theatre London in October. The production starred Claire-Louise Cordwell as Helen, Jonathan McGuinness as Danny and Joe Armstrong as Liam. The play won a Herald Angel Award[4] at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and received numerous favourable reviews.[5][6][7]


  1. ^ Dennis Kelly: Emotion before intelligence | Fest
  2. ^ http://www.traverse.co.uk/shows_orphans.htm
  3. ^ http://www.britishcouncil.org/arts-performanceinprofile-2009-british_council-paines_plough_theatre_company.htm
  4. ^ BBC - Birmingham - Entertainment - Play that’s the talk of the Fringe
  5. ^ Orphans | Theatre review | Stage | The Guardian
  6. ^ http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/specials/edinburgh/article6792159.ece
  7. ^ Orphans - Rivetting exploration of urban fear | Edinburgh Festival Guide