Thursday, January 15, 2015

Landmark Productions, 'The Walworth Farce': What Are We, If Not Our Stories?

A father and his sons perform a ramshackle play about their departure from Ireland in Enda Walsh's grotesque drama. Photo: Patrick Redmond

Olympia Theatre
Jan 14-Feb 8

My review of The Walworth Farce by Enda Walsh coming up just as soon as I bring you to the beach in Brighton ...

When does The Walworth Farce stop being funny? This is the question throughout Enda Walsh's play, first produced in 2006, with its intermingling of slapstick and violence giving way to bloodshed and taboo in its final moments. Interestingly, even then some audience members cannot resist laughing. This is due in part to Brendan Gleeson's arch ability to unscrew a line and play it for laughs. But as a whole, it's because director Sean Foley's staging for Landmark Productions struggles to convey a serious reality outside the farce.

An apartment interior is seemingly scooped from a London tower block in Alice Power's scrupulous set, exposing nerves of fibreglass and ridges of concrete, while the stained floral wallpaper signifies that the space is begrudgingly stuck in the 1970s. Everyday, Dinny (Brendan Gleeson) stages a ramshackle play about his departure from Cork for London and casts his sons Sean (Brian Gleeson) and Blake (Domhnall Gleeson) to play multiple characters, demanding them to reach constantly for wigs, fake moustaches and frocks.

The conflict comes from the slip-ups in their play, beginning with Sean's misplacement of the props after grabbing the wrong shopping bag in Tescos. These stake-raising moments are marked by transitions from the farce into reality, comedy into horror, pinned by Dinny's acts of violence. Brendan Gleeson clowns cleverly and hilariously but he plays both the farce and the reality outside nearly identically. His Dinny doesn't darken, and as a result doesn't bring much danger.

On the other end of the spectrum, Brian Gleeson finds better traction for himself in the dramatic register of the piece than the farcical. Too early does he readily rebel against his father ("Is any of it true?") as opposed to showing Sean's strain of sustaining the farce and being pushed to breaking point. It's unfortunate because both actors deliver moments of power towards the conclusion: Brendan Gleeson imbues one of Dinny's cruel machinations with fatherly love, and Brian Gleeson towards the close plays a vulnerable, base and terrified creature.

When Waiting for Godot ran at the Gaiety theatre, that victorian venue almost seemed to amplify Beckett's inspirations from music hall and circus, forms of popular entertainment that have a history in that space. Similarly, the Olympia seems to emphasise the elements of the popular 20th century farce that's inherent in Walsh's drama. An object typical of this model is the wardrobe, convenient for characters to disappear and reemerge in different costumes, frequently used by Domhnall Gleeson who is the revelation in this production. Spinning breathlessly between characters, the cunning actor also seems most aware to the imports of slapstick and buffoonery as well as the stakes of the wider drama. Completing the cast is Leona Allen, charming and believable.

The complexity of Walsh's drama is the manipulation of farce but Foley allows that form to take over. One of the purveyors trying to prevent this is Paul Keogan's instinctive lighting, which assists in the transitions between farce and reality. Unfortunately, even that is heightened and blows up unnecessarily in sparks by the end. An undoubtedly sustaining and frenetic production but never has The Walworth Farce been truest in name.

What did everybody else think?

1 comment:

  1. Saw it last night, thought I was way too long, quite funny at the start, but the joke wore thin, I think I was in the minority as the rest of the crowd seemed to lap it up. The performances were admirable, but the play didn't do it for me. I for one was glad when it was finally over.