The Walworth Farce – September 2008

2/10

By Enda Walsh

Directed by Mikel Murfi

Venue: Cottesloe Theatre

Date: Saturday 27th September 2008

I should have known. A play by an Irish writer, about three Irish blokes in a tatty London flat, and me not one for liking the Irish style. It was bound to end in disappointment, and although I did my best to like what I saw, the dreariness, brutality and lack of humour won out. My favourite part was the lights going out at the end of the play.

Both Steve and I reckoned this was a crude Irish knock-off of The Homecoming (February 2008). Clearly influenced by Pinter, the play mixed the surreal and the violent, and left us with no idea of the playwright’s intentions. Despite the title it wasn’t funny enough to be a farce, it didn’t show enough of ‘real’ human nature to engage me on that level, and apart from a few throwaway lines about the situation of Irish folk in today’s London, it wasn’t socially relevant either. It certainly gave the actors some fun parts, and they did their jobs with enthusiasm and a lot of energy, but it wasn’t sufficient for me.

The story of the play is that of a father and his two adult sons, who spend almost all their time in the flat re-enacting the story of how they got there. This isn’t the best performance they’ve given, as the younger son picked up the wrong bag at Tesco’s, so they’re without some of the necessary food props for their story. The father is seriously abusive, and uses both violence and the threat of what’s ‘out there’ to keep his two boys chained to him like animals.

As the acted story limps along, we get glimpses of the real one behind it. The father killed his own brother and sister-in-law after their mother’s funeral, and had to run from the police. He ended up in this flat in the Walworth Road, and somehow his two young sons arrived on his doorstep a short while later, possibly to bring him home (although why would their mother have let them go and then not tried to find them when they didn’t return?). He takes them in and to calm them down tells them a story. This goes on for a few days, then one of the boys asks a question, and the great lie comes to life, taking over their lives in the process. For years they’ve gone through a fake version of what happened, with just enough of the truth incorporated to keep it at bay. The father plays himself, while the boys play a lot of other parts, including their younger selves and a number of women. But this time they’re interrupted with more serious consequences.

The checkout girl at Tesco’s had been friendly with the shopping son, and even suggested they go to Brighton the next day. He was so rattled he picked up the wrong bag, and she arrives just before the interval to deliver the right bag. My first thought was of Jenny Jules turning up at The Homecoming – not the same actress, but a young black woman, not too dissimilar. She gets drawn into their storytelling, forcibly, and despite trying to get help from her Mum on her mobile, she isn’t able to get away till near the end.

The older son seems to have grasped that his younger brother not only wants to leave the flat, but might actually be able to survive in the outside world. He decides to kill their father, but winds up his brother by telling him he’s going to kill the girl instead. After stabbing Dad, he releases his brother from the cupboard at just the right time so that the younger man will stab him as he apparently tries to stab the woman. With two of the nutters dead she heads for the door, and dashes out into the rain. So, what will the younger brother do?

He wanders round like a zombie, redoing a few parts of the story, silently. He’s already taken all his father’s money, so he’s not completely lost it. Then he gets his coat on, takes the bag of shopping, and appears to be heading out the door. Instead he shuts and bolts it, and stands, with his back to the door and arms outstretched. And that’s how it ended.

This description makes it sound better than it was. I did get a sense of the sadness of these boys’ lives, brought up to repeat this weird story endlessly, but it was so unreal that I could neither take it seriously nor find it particularly funny. There was some humour, especially in the second half, but overall I think I’ll avoid Irish stuff in future, unless there’s some really good reason to see it.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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