The Walworth Farce
Druid Theatre Company @ Her Majesty’s Theatre
2:00pm, Sat 6 Mar 2010
The first thing that struck me about The Walworth Farce was the meticulous set. We’re looking at a cutaway of a house interior – nothing startling there – but the attention to detail is amazing; it exudes the sadness of a worn squalor.
The second thing that struck me was the realisation that, five minutes into the play, I had barely understood a single word that was being said.
I think that Australians like to feel an affinity for the Irish; that there’s a mutual admiration and respect between the peoples of our countries. But I’ll be damned if it didn’t take me way too long to pick up the accents, especially of Dinny (Michael Glenn Murphy) and Sean (Tadhg Murphy), though that process was no doubt hindered by the constant flitting between characters, adopting exaggerated intonations to differentiate the characters, whilst donning simple costumes to create the visual distinction.
Which was very much appreciated, because until I started picking up the dialogue, I didn’t have the faintest clue what was going on.
The first Act is all setup: we meet the various characters (there’s a play-within-a-play going on here, as the three male cast members tell a farcical story leveraging brain surgery, familial hijinks, infidelity, and crass 70’s-era sitcom exposition), but we’re also shown what may be the “present”, involving the courting of local checkout chick Hayley. It’s all very curious and funny and loud – Dinny owns the stage with volume – but there’s a decidedly sinister twist at the end of the Act.
And, in the interval, I sat there trying to make sense of it all.
My first note was that The Walworth Farce was great Fringe theatre – but hang on, this was under the Festival umbrella, with $60 tickets. Hmmm. Then I recalled that it had been picked up after a successful Edinburgh Fringe run, and was in the midst of a worldwide tour… the Druid Theatre Company, based in Ireland, is pretty highly regarded.
And then I told myself to stop thinking about the labels, to stop thinking about the categories, and just focus on the matter at hand. Which was, frankly, confusing… in a satisfying and absorbing way.
The second Act starts. There’s a big reveal about a murder. There’s some astonishing acting by (the gorgeously dark-skinned) Mercy Ojelade as her Hayley character displays naïve innocence, morphing into sheer wide-eyed terror. Dinny forces her to adopt the role of his wife, Maureen – and the moment when he holds her down, painting her face white, is absolutely brutal – you could have heard a pin drip, except for her soft whimpering. And then the killings… again, shocking, bold, blunt. Sean, left alone onstage, painting his own face black as he tries to act out his own play, the stories forming around him.
What an ending. What a jaw-droppingly good ending. What a great piece of work.
I had a good long muse about The Walworth Farce on my way to the next show. Something in my head kept telling me it was a brilliant piece of challenging, deconstructionist theatre; an interesting idea, another part of my head replied, and it decided to check the director’s notes to see if they could confirm or deny the deconstruction theory. So I read the notes, and this line catches my eye: “I have to say, honestly, I haven’t a clue what is going on, other than I love the play immediately.”
Hey – if it’s good enough for the director, it’s good enough for me. After the initial comprehension problems subsided, this became a marvellous piece of theatre, utterly compelling in every regard.