Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Enda Walsh and the Anti-Forum play.

To the National to see Enda Walsh's critically acclaimed play The Walworth Farce as it comes to the end of its London run.

A few years ago I saw a production of Walsh's Disco Pigs and last year his teenage parable Chatroom won plaudits in the Cottesloe.

I'm still not sure what to make of his work. Here he revisits common themes of power relationships, inter dependency and the struggle to control a collective biography.

Dinny, an Irish exile from Cork, living in a council flat on the Walworth Road has spent the last twenty years bringing up his sons Blake and Sean. Every day he makes them physically enact a farcical version of the events leading up to him leaving their mother and running away across the Irish sea. The only time he lets them out of the flat is to buy the props needed for an accurate and detailed retelling. They are hostage to his version of history.

The tyranny of this kinesthetic form of education is revealed when the private ritual is interrupted by Hayley, a young black checkout girl from Tescos, who realising that Sean, tasked with the morning shop, had picked up the wrong bag, calls round to correct the error. With her friendly demeanour and curious questioning she represents everything the boys, trapped in their father's vision of events, are not.

It's a provocative piece of work and for all the heightened clowning, genuinely disturbing, particularly as Dinny, unsure how to cope with the intrusion into his tightly controlled world by turns enlists, kidnaps and terrorises Hayley, at one point coating her face in white hair cream so that she can authentically take on one of the roles in his story. Meanwhile Blake, lost and confused by the break of routine kidnaps, binds and threatens her with a knife.

In usurping the very idea that biography can be authentically staged, the play jokes on the idea of a theatrical event inevitably being a cathartic therapy or revolution for change. It's a delicious and cheeky dig at the positive power of storytelling. If the teller is both deluded and fixed the damage becomes incalculable. In the fun of the farce this is all preposterously enjoyable and the black humour is positively gothic.

Beyond the laughter is the sinister undertone. We only have to look at the case studies of Joseph Fritzl in Austria and the Fred West in this country to understand how fragile a child's understanding of normality can be, and how easily a sick parent can pervert it. Although moral panic needs some temper, it's also helpful to explore our darkest recesses and our most hideous nightmares.

As stories are powerful... they can also be dangerous. As stories are inspiring they can also be liberating.

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