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Orlando on stage

July 22nd, 2007 (10:27 pm)

I saw Orlando in In Celebration last weekend!

When I arrived at the theatre, about an hour and a half early, to pick up my ticket, there was already a huge crowd outside, most of them just waiting to see him arrive. I thought, "Give the poor guy a break!", and scurried off into the alleyway round the corner, where I lurked for about an hour, until the doors opened.

The play is set in the north east of England, in the late 1960s. Orlando is the youngest of three brothers who have come back to the family home to celebrate their parents' fortieth wedding anniversary. Their father is a coal miner, a small terrier of a man, just one year from retirement, his health virtually ruined. Their mother is a cold, elegant woman, who married beneath her because, it gradually emerges, she was pregnant (with a child who subsequently died). And it was to appease her, it is implied, that the father sent the boys to a fee-paying school, and then to university, ensuring that they had the best education available, the best future possible.


As the play progresses, we learn that none of the boys is happy. Andrew, the eldest (a wordy, showy part that Orlando apparently wanted) has given up a successful career in the law to become an artist, despite the fact that he can no longer support his wife and family. Colin, the middle son, is the happiest: rich, successful, and kind to his parents, but without a real relationship. Steven (Orlando), the genius of the family, is a broken, shell of a man who, after seven years of struggling to write a great novel, has finally given up: "What was it about?" "I don't know." "What do you teach?" "Nothing, much." Instead, he spends his nights sobbing into his pillow.

Why are the sons so unhappy? Because they have been educated beyond their station in life: raised to believe that they could be anything, they have grown up to find that there is nothing to be.

But it's far more complicated than that. Andrew's anger, his insistence that his mother is 'to blame', is rooted, it emerges, in the fact that, as a toddler, he was sent to stay with a neighbour for the first few weeks after Steven's birth, and has never recovered from the 'rejection'. Colin, we realise, is better adjusted because, at that same difficult time, he was, as his mother tells him, her 'little treasure', her 'life saver'. Steven's resignation, his decision to live with his misery, his refusal to be angry with his parents, arises from the fact that he is his father's favourite and adores his father in return.

Orlando's is in some ways the most important—and by far the most difficult—role in the play, and yet it's almost entirely silent. Ironically, when Steven does speak he delivers the play's two most important lines: when he asks Colin how he deals with being a displaced person (and Colin replies that that he doesn't feel displaced); and when he points out to both of his brothers that his father has created in them something that he (the father) despises.

But most of the time, he simply suffers in silence.

In Celebration, though well written, has dated. It's no longer uncommon for the sons of miners to go to university, and the displacement the sons feel is no longer topical. The family issues uncovered are explored, though with less subtlety, in (British) soap operas every week. Many members of the audience were baffled by the low-key plot. I overheard a little girl asking her mother, "Why was Orlando crying?" (And her mother replied, "I don't know.")

Orlando gives it everything he's got (just as he did in Kingdom of Heaven) but I had to agree with Variety, which said that he illustrated the character's pain but lacked the skill to show us why he was suffering. I would add, however, yet. Orlando is a learner, and I believe he will learn quickly. So I've booked another ticket and will be seeing him again in two weeks' time!

Oh yes—the unflattering moustache:

Orlando as Steven Shaw


Posted by: sagaluthien (sagaluthien)
Posted at: July 23rd, 2007 06:01 am (UTC)
In Celebration

As you will go back and see the play it must be worth it...
I wish I had more money and time and I would have fly to London and tried to see it. Though reading several reviews I have my doubt if I would really get everything and probably been like the little girl. Or maybe it is my own low self esteem.

Posted by: ningloreth (ningloreth)
Posted at: July 26th, 2007 09:35 am (UTC)
Re: In Celebration

Yes, I did enjoy it, and I think you would have done, too. It was quite easy to follow what was going on, especially when Orlando's character and the middle brother were terrified that the oldest brother would say something to hurt their mother and father -- they managed to make the audience terrified too! But it was quite hard to piece together why? the boys were so unhappy, because the clues were scattered throughout the play. (But you like mysteries, don't you? :-)

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