Orphans review: BaxterORPHANS. By Lyle Kessler. Directed by Christo Davids. With Abduragman Adams, Christian Bennet and Stefan Erasmus. Baxter Golden Arrow Studio.


At the opening of Orphans I had an unexpectedly delightful and engaging time. Lyle Kessler’s play, which premiered in the USA in 1983, has been adapted to Woodstock, Cape Town, and I felt like I was in my ‘hood from the first call to prayer sound effect. What follows is a moving, strange, and engaging story about two young men, brothers, and their interaction with an older man who becomes a father figure to them. And these characters are from Woodstock. I see them every day. I know these fatherless boys, these lost boys, the older man skommeling and hustling, the unsafe world outside, the old pictures on faded walls, the wooden two-door freestanding cupboard full of a dead woman’s clothes.

The play itself is probably dated and so it was a good idea to set it in its period, with TV references, no cellphones, and paper maps and busses to give context to the time. This comes with certain problems however, because Woodstock, Cape Town in the 80’s was in a political mess that couldn’t be avoided or left unspoken about, so I had to work hard to suspend my disbelief in the beginning to give myself over to the story. Luckily, superb performances and simply wonderful direction allowed me to do just that.

Stefan Erasmus as Phillip is a delight. His on-the-spectrum character is so precisely explored, but it is his emotional range that made me fall in love with him. And then his comic timing, quick as lightning facial expressions and physical agility only add further layers to Phillip. Treat, the older pickpocket brother, is also brilliantly brought to life by Christian Bennet, and he is the most recognisable of the characters. I have a Treat who lives up the road. Loose cannon, horrible temper, threat of spilling over into violence, hint of substance abuse, unable to come to terms with the responsibility of looking after a younger brother, but still funny, human, warm, needy. It is a huge challenge to squeeze all of this into a stage character, but Christian totally pulls it off.

Orphans to run at the Baxter

Go and see good theatre

Abduragman Adams as Harold gets a paragraph of his own, but I will not be able to give enough words to all the praise he deserves. His Harold is an embodiment – physically, emotionally, spiritually, magnetically. He tells the story of himself, the history, the time, the relationships, what it means to be boy and man. He is outstanding. Abduragman is in a league of his own.

I laughed, cried, and was ultimately moved. I didn’t once look at my watch. Christo Davids and his cast deserved the standing ovation that the audience jumped to at the curtain call.

I had a few tiny niggles, and I hope that if I say them, they will be seen as advice. Two little irritations didn’t make the transition in the adaptation. The first are the ingredients of Bouillabaisse, which can’t be sourced locally. I would replace scallops and clams with mussels, and shrimps with prawns. Just thinking about what can be bought at the fish shop. Then the reference to General Electric was wrong. I guess one would have to say Eskom, and because this is the 80’s, that would be okay. Finally, I think the play could do without the 10-minute interval. There is something old fashioned about it, and I would have preferred to just sit through the whole thing. I would have been happy to.

Last night’s audience really enjoyed this offering. I think every Capetonian would. Go. Go and see good theatre.

What: Orphans

Where and when: Baxter Golden Arrow Studio from 11 to 28 October 2023 at 8pm, with Saturday matinees at 3pm

Tickets: Webtickets