Enda Walsh’s crazed and brilliant work has a suitably high energy revival at the hands of director Nicky Allpress. The piece is a great choice for the first show at Southwark Playhouse’s new venue – close to Elephant and Castle and the play’s setting on the Walworth Road.
It’s hard to claim that The Walworth Farce is an evening out for everyone. A family of isolated misfits enacting a story about why they left Ireland, the play has a mad sense of humour that’s deliberately puerile and could easily offend. And the action is confusing, again deliberately, with characters taking multiple roles in therapeutic amateur theatricals while repeating actions in a ritualistic fashion.
“Wonderful work, impressive detail”
As the play within the play happens, there’s fun to be had from Walsh’s script and Allpress shares the playwright’s audacity. The Walworth Farce is a very funny play filled with great insults and colourful language. And it is clear from the start that you can admire the performers here. Their characters are bad actors; performing like automatons, complete with comedy wigs. It takes skill, and courage, to mess around like this. Taking the parts of two brothers, Emmet Byrne and Killian Coyle work at an incredible pace, all the while establishing the affection between their characters that leads to the play’s emotional impact.
Byrne and Coyle show their characters are damaged and full of fear. Dan Skinner plays their father, Dinny, who terrorizes them, with appropriate menace. And just how scary Dinny is, comes into focus with a fourth role, another commendable performance from Rachelle Diedericks, whose character is accidentally drawn into the father’s dramas.
As the story develops – don’t worry, you do work out what it’s all ‘about’ – Dinny becomes a figure to pity. While it becomes clear the family’s problems start with the patriarch, Skinner has taken care to give the role a kind of charm. Walsh is challenging us as the man is surely a monster? So it isn’t just the story that twists… does our own sense of morality too?
“This story we play is everything”
The Walworth Farce turns into a tragedy. There are grand overtones to the piece as the threat of violence increases. The danger is sure to enthrall theatergoers as it stems from the power of stories and performances: how theatricality can shape our reality, can protect but also trap us. It’s a potent theme for a play and the effect is powerful. After a lot of laughs, and some scratching of heads, the strange world the audience is drawn into comes into conflict with reality in dramatic fashion. The bleak and bloody play is full of tension. Will anyone escape from Walworth? It’s worth a trip to Elephant and Castle to find out.
Until 18 March 2023