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Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2007

  Walworth Farce
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Andrew Haydon
posted 28 August 2007

At first it is hard to know what to make of Enda Walsh’s new play at the Traverse. In a dilapidated 15th floor flat on the Walworth Road in London, with grubby peeling wallpaper, smashed partition walls and papered-over windows, three sinister, violent-looking, Irishmen frenetically perform a pre-scripted drama of their own making, acting out between them the eight or nine parts with rudimentary cardboard props and hilariously makeshift costumes.

Despite the apparently genial contents of this mechanicals’ farce, there is a pervasive undertone of violence. The three men periodically break out from their curious occupation to bicker, threaten and remonstrate with one another. What are they doing? Why are they doing it? Who are they? Gradually, through the cracks in their play, details emerge. They are two sons and a father. And apparently they perform this tale every day. There is even a prize for the best actor in each day’s performance - although it seems that this is routinely collected by the large bullying father.

Into this strange, oppressive atmosphere a young black Tesco checkout girl suddenly bursts at the close of the first act. The introduction of this outsider serves brilliantly to point up just exactly how strange their ritual is. It is at this point that the play becomes several notches more alive. After all, there is only so long you can go on portraying persons going about a routine which has become tedious even for them.

If you want a rough idea of what it’s like, imagine Endgame-like characters forced to continually rehash a burlesque of Orton’s Loot - for infinity, á la Beckett’s Play. Another useful comparison is Enda Walsh’s own play Bedbound, with which Walworth Farce shares many themes and ideas. Here again, a demented father keeps his offspring locked away from the real world – a world in which he has created violent havoc. Here again is the use of story and storytelling as a means to create a fragile equilibrium by the tiny hermetic group.

While Walsh has often triumphed in the past with pieces that make extensive use of monologues, Walworth is much more dialogue driven. The interactions between the three men and the uncomprehending stranger in their midst are absolutely central. The business of their farce, to which they keep returning throughout the play, is pretty much the most exhausting part of the piece. One is, after all, watching it not only for its own sense – trying desperately to glean useful clues the better to understand the situation – but also for clues as to how the increasingly tense ‘real life’ situation will resolve itself. The answer to this, incidentally, is as unexpected as it is suddenly tragic and profound – as if, in the final moments Walsh is suddenly gripped by the spirit of some Jacobethan tragedian. This is a puzzling item, brilliantly executed, but with the persistent question of quite what Walsh is trying to achieve with it.


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