BASED on Peter Mullan’s cult classic film of the same name, the National Theatre of Scotland musical Orphans will open on the SEC stage this week.

Set in the streets of Glasgow in 1998, the black comedy about family, grief and forgiveness follows the four Flynn siblings on a stormy night after the death of their mother.

Presenter, comedian and writer Robert Florence takes on the role of Thomas as he makes his musical theatre debut, a chance he jumped at when he was first approached by the National Theatre of Scotland.

Glasgow Times: Picture by Peter DibdinPicture by Peter Dibdin

The Burnistoun creator said: “I love the film and so I was like ‘aw definitely I want to try, I better get this’ and did a workshop and wee development sessions and then eventually, fortunately, got the part.

“But this was all during pandemic time so it was a very long process because for a period we didn’t know if it would ever be possible to put on a show again, it was an odd period.

“I thought ‘this is just my luck that I would get a chance like this and then this happens’ but we’re doing it, it’s happening.”

Glasgow Times: Robert Florence. Picture by Eoin CareyRobert Florence. Picture by Eoin Carey

The musical, which has its world premiere this week features original songs from Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly, something which also drew Robert to the project.

He said: “It’s also Roddy and Tommy’s songs, when I heard what they’ve done for it and when I read the script and I saw how good a job Douglas [Maxwell] had done adapting it, and I know how great Cora [Bissett] is, the director, I was just like ‘this is gonna be good’, I just knew.

“And I feel musicals often live or die by the strength of their songs as well and this musical has just got some of the best musical theatre songs I’ve ever heard.”

Glasgow Times: Amy Conachan, Reuben Joseph, Robert Florence, Dylan Wood. Picture by Eoin Carey.Amy Conachan, Reuben Joseph, Robert Florence, Dylan Wood. Picture by Eoin Carey.

Taking on the role of Thomas, Robert, from the city’s Balornock, says his character is one he really understands and can appreciate why he leans so heavily on his faith after the death of his mum.

He said: “Thomas is a guy who’s quietly struggling a great deal with the loss of his mother and is kind of trapped in his loyalty to his mother, his loyalty to the chapel and his faith.

“I was raised a Catholic, we were never a super religious family, we would occasionally go to chapel but I was raised a Catholic and went to a Catholic school, so it all speaks to me all that stuff and I get it, so it felt a very comfortable character for me to play.

“I may be lapsed now but I still get the appeal of the tradition and the ceremony, and when my own mother died I definitely felt like I wish I did believe almost so I get why a character who did believe would really lean on that above all else in that time.”

Glasgow Times: Cast. Picture by Eoin Carey.Cast. Picture by Eoin Carey.

For Robert, Orphans has been an emotional experience and he’s warned anyone coming to see the play who’s lost a parent to “bring some tissues”.

He said: “When you’re singing songs about wanting your mammy on a stage, the emotion comes really easily because it’s true, I do want my mammy every day.

“The challenge is really in controlling it and that’s been a concern for me all through the production, that when I’m actually doing this on stage for real in front of an audience, it’s holing it together.

“It’s a really emotional show, the songs are really emotional and there’s times in rehearsal when you’re greeting listening to other people singing the songs, when you’re greeting doing the songs and it’s because you don’t even need to tap into that stuff, it’s right there at the surface.

“I think it is a show that does make people really reflect on that stuff.”

Robert says it’s been a huge privilege to work alongside so many other amazing actors and he’s excited for people to finally be able to see it.

He said: “Glasgow is the old hometown so it’s exciting to do it there.

“I think people should come to see Orphans because it might be a show that’s about grief and about loss but it’s also a great big celebration of being with people, companionship, and I think with the last couple of years we’ve been through, people should take this opportunity to come and get back out amongst people again for a celebratory thing.”

He added: “I’m blown away by what National Theatre of Scotland has managed to do production-wise and how it looks, it’s really spectacular looking, they’ve done such an amazing job and people don’t want to miss it.”

Orphans will be at the SEC Armadillo from Wednesday, April 6 to Saturday, April 9.

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