The Walworth Farce @ Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

directed by
Mikel Murphy
This production of Enda Walshs new play has left me puzzled. Not the play itself you understand, but the response to it.

The word of mouth surrounding The Walworth Farce has been pretty positive – bucketloads of high star ratings and a Fringe First award. So perhaps my expectations were just a little too high. Perhaps.

Set entirely within the confined space of a London high-rise flat, the play focuses on its three occupants as they go through what is gradually revealed to be a daily performance where they re-enact the events that brought them from Cork to London. Or at least, one version of those events.

In its initial stages, the production is intentionally confusing and the audience is left to react to onstage events with little appreciation of their context. Things get more interesting as we break out of this play within a play and learn more about the relationship between the three main characters: the overpowering and bullying father Dinny (played by Denis Conway), the nervous and subdued younger son Sean (Tadhg Murphy) and the older Blake (Garrett Lombard) who seems more resigned to this strange daily routine.

Dinny, as tyrannical director, ensures the daily ‘performance’ runs to script and departures are met with a brutal response. Only Sean is permitted to leave the flat, and only then to purchase the food that forms an integral part of their performance.

However on this occasion he is distracted by the attentions of a checkout-girl and returns home with the wrong bag of shopping and this is the catalyst for the tensions that follow.

The arrival of Hayley, the check-out girl, at the flat with the correct bag brings conflicts within the flat to a head, as Seans alternative view of their last day in Cork is revealed.

There is no denying the incredible performances by the cast as they switch between multiple roles within their play, especially Lombard who has the task of playing a number of female roles. Mikel Murphys assured direction also aids in differentiating between the numerous characters being portrayed by the family and in revealing a complex plot in an understandable manner.

Unfortunately the sophistication that has gone into the plays structure and characterisation is entirely lacking in the dialogue. More slapstick than subtle, I really struggled to be more than slightly amused by it, although others in the theatre clearly found it genuinely funny. Personally I found it depressing that the biggest laugh the show generated was a rather cheap gag at the expense of Tesco customer service.

Walsh’s play does have something to say about the selective way we choose to remember events, and how we like to perceive our national identity. However, taken at face value, the play does little to encourage further thought.

Had this production been staged one of the Fringes less prestigious venues I honestly believe it would have slipped by largely unnoticed. But given the reputation of the Traverse, people seem to have brought into the belief that it must be something special. Or maybe it’s just my sense of humour that is somewhat lacking.

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