The Walworth Farce (Southwark Playhouse Elephant)

Posted: February 25, 2023 in Theatre

Writer: Enda Walsh

Director: Nicky Allpress


Irish writer Enda Walsh’s 2006 play, The Walworth Farce, seems like an ideal choice to open Southwark Playhouse’s brand new venue, which is located near to where Walworth Road meets the Elephant and Castle roundabout. So, is this revival well worth seeing or is it just a white elephant?

The new venue is just a few hundred metres from the existing Southwark Playhouse (Borough) which continues to operate. It is tucked in neatly at the foot of a modern tower block. Its two-level interior could be a model for freshly-painted industrial chic, sending a loud and clear message that thrills on the stage will always take precedence over frills in the foyer.

The play is set inside an upper level flat in a Walworth Road high rise, occupied by Dinny (Dan Skinner), an expatriate Irishman who has switched careers from painter and decorator to brain surgeon. Designed by Anisha Fields, the shabby flat has three adjacent doors, giving rise to the promise of a farce in the Feydeau mould, but this never materialises and, instead, we get a nonsensical romp in the Ionesco mould, with a few uniquely Irish twists.

Dinny shares the flat with his two sons, Sean (Emmet Byrne) and Blake (Killian Coyle), both distraught after the funeral of “Mammy” who had been killed by a dead horse. Dinny goes into a rage when it becomes apparent that the wrong shopping bag has been brought back from Tesco’s, ruining his expectations for an evening meal after a long day of brain surgery and setting off a train of fierce family conflicts.

As the three men re-enact scenes from their past in Cork, they assume different characters, switch in and out of drag. At this point, the production is something like an episode of Mrs Brown’s Boys on speed and the skills of the actors in ploughing through it is admirable, but the one feat that they are not able to pull off is to make any of their antics funny. It takes the arrival, with the correct shopping bag, of Tesco checkout agent, Hayley (Rachelle Diedericks), to raise some laughs and that is largely because the character is recognisable and believable.

Underlying the mayhem, the writer is exploring the pull of roots and family ties in shaping characters’ lives, familiar territory for many forms of comedy. It would be ridiculous to complain that an absurdist comedy makes no sense, but there are many occasions when Walsh takes too much licence in the name of absurdism and director Nicky Allpress’s frenzied production fails to rein him in. When things quieten down and the pace slows, signs of a decent play start to emerge and the savage beauty in Walsh’s almost poetic writing becomes, fleetingly, beguiling.

The addition of this new venue to London’s off-West End theatre scene is warmly welcomed. Inevitably, future productions will be less site-specific than this inaugural one and, hopefully, they will also be more appealing.

Performance date: 24 February 2023

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