SOME 24 years on from its release, Orphans remains a cult classic and a jewel in the filmmaking crown of director Peter Mullan.

The film tells the story of a Glasgow family struggling to deal with the grief of losing their mother. A journey for all ensue and what’s told is equally hilarious and poignant.

It’s no easy mission then, when Cora Bissett decided to transform the film and adapt it into a musical for the National Theatre of Scotland.

“We want to tell stories that are intrinsically Scottish, and rooted in Scottish culture,” Bissett told The National. “Very often musicals are based on classic novels or films, just because a musical is such an unwieldy, big, multifaceted beast of a thing to produce, that if your story isn’t tried and tested then you’re already starting from a very, really tricky position.

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“I went straight back to Orphans. When I was watching, I thought ‘this story appeals to everyone’. It’s about a family going through grief and how it can affect you in so many ways.”

The Shetland actor said she didn’t realise straight away but a friend had pointed out just how perfect Orphans was for a musical adaption.

The National: © Eoin Carey 2020.

She said: “It does have quite a classic musical theatre struggle where you have a big inciting event and there’s an inherent theatricality in Peter’s filmmaking. You think you’re in gritty realist land and then he launches off into a much more, I think, as he would describe, European-style filmmaking where you’re in magical realist territory. You’ve got the roof blowing off churches, you’ve got a man floating down the Clyde on a pallet.”

As for why she chose to make it a musical, she didn’t think Mullan would’ve let her play it straight.

“If I’d said I just want to get your version of Orphans on stage, I don’t think Peter would have let me,” she said. “He said it was the fact it was such a bold idea, and to kind of go so far in a different direction from the film, that he kind of went for it.”

Bissett said “planets collided” for the casting of Burnistoun creator Robert Florence, a lover of musicals with an “extraordinary voice”.

She said: “When we approached him, we had to audition him because I really needed to know he could sing. He was really nervous for the addition, but he slayed it. His voice is extraordinary. It’s stunningly beautiful. I think it’s gonna knock people’s socks off. They won’t believe that Rab is capable of that. Once we saw Rab we didn’t even look for anybody else.”

The National: © Eoin Carey 2020.

Amy Conachan plays Shiella in the musical remake of Orphans

For Florence, this is all new. The TV actor has written and performed stage shows – but never musicals.

“It’s nothing I’ve ever experienced before,” Florence told The National. “In telly, you don’t really get rehearsals. You just need to turn up and do it.

“This is the first live show I’ve done where I can’t directly talk to the audience at any point so if I make a mistake I can’t make a joke about it.”

Florence said Orphans is a perfect film for a musical adaptation. He said: “Peter Mullan is brilliant with using surrealism to tell a story that still feels really true and real. That’s the knack he’s got as a filmmaker and as a writer. I love him as an actor but as a filmmaker I struggle to think of anyone better in the UK.”

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Florence hopes that people come see Orphans who wouldn’t ordinarily go to see a musical. “I know a lot of people have an idea of what a musical is and I hope a lot of people will come and see it because it’s Peter Mullan,” he said. “Because it’s a Glasgow thing and it’s very Scottish.

“And I hope people come and realise ‘actually I like a musical, I like the way they’re using song to tell the story’. I would love that because I do love musicals. People should be proud of films like Orphans, I think there’s still plenty of the young team out there who haven’t seen it so hopefully they realise how great the film is.”

The National: © Eoin Carey 2020.

Orphans will begin touring in April

Reuban Joseph, who plays middle brother Michael, said Orphans's themes, both in the film and musical, are universal.

He said: “I think in terms of grief, which the show deals with, nobody has been untouched by losing someone in the last two years, and the last thing I'd want to go see is a pandemic piece but I think grief is already a universal experience. I think Orphans does such a good job of that theme that we’ve experienced in the last two years in such a really subtle and gorgeous way, but then it's also an in your face laugh out loud show with stellar visuals."

The National:

Reuban Joseph, who plays middle brother Michael, said the themes in Orphans are universal

He said people should "come for some cracking tunes, brilliant and gorgeous set pieces, but hopefully a sense of community we have been craving and missing".

Amy Conachan, who plays Shiella, said the film "captures what it means to be Scottish".

She said: “I think if you love the film, you'll still love it, because it's still definitely Orphans. It's just a new way of looking at it, where the characters sing their songs.

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“I think it's the kind of musical that people who don't go to the theatre very often would love. I think if you're going to start with something, then you should start with Orphans because it's, essentially if you're Glaswegian, it's so Glasgow, and it just captures the essence of what it is to be Scottish.”

The show features an array of Scottish talent, with Florence, Conachan and Joseph joined by Dylan Wood and Chloe Hodgson. Music and lyrics are written by Emmy-award-winning composers Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly and the screenplay is written by Douglas Maxwell.

Orphans will open at SEC Armadillo on April 7, followed by a tour around Scotland.