Review by Daz Gale
A new theatre has opened in London as Southwark Playhouse finally unveil their brand new space in Elephant and Castle – ‘Southwark Playhouse Elephant’ joins its sister venue ‘Borough’ a short walk down the road. For its first full scale production, it feels fitting they have gone for a play set a stone’s throw away from where it’s set as The Walworth Farce moves in, locking the doors behind it. With its sister venue producing some impressive titles this year alone so far, will this be able to join the ranks or would the whole thing feel farcical?
Enda Walsh’s The Walworth Farce was first performed in Galway, Cork and Dublin in 2006, was revived at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2007 and receives its London premiere at National Theatre in 2008. Set in Walworth Road, it sees Dinny and his two sons Blake and Sean locked away in their council flat as the mystery of why they were exiled from their home in Ireland deepens.
At times, The Walworth Farce is a play within a play as the three family members recreate the story they tell each other every day, competing for the coveted acting trophy. However, on this day, the action is continuously interrupted when things don’t go according to plan thanks to a seemingly innocent shopping mix up and an unexpected guest. The events on this particular day play out like no other, ending in a way that ensures life will never be the same for any of the family members.
The mix of two competing narratives as the family play out their story before snapping back to reality can be hard to follow at times, particularly in the beginning when it is unclear what is going on. While the narrative becomes easier to accept throughout, the two different stories don’t gel together as well as you’d expect them to, leading to a show that feels jarring at times and confused throughout.
The tone of voice of the show is consistently at odds with each other, with the comedic nature of the farce that dominates the first act increasingly being pushed aside for the darker aspects of the story. While two competing and seemingly incompatible tones have been played out much better in other plays over the years, there is something about the two in The Walworth Farce that makes for a deeply uncomfortable show – and not just because of the darkness in the story. It felt hard to immerse myself into the story, while my head tried to make sense of what was going on.
The issue, in part, was down to a confused direction. From the shows opening moments featuring a prolonged silence, the action on stage felt busy, never knowing where to look as all three performers acted out individually. This was a fair representation of the remainder of the play, where bold choices failed to land in the way that was presumably hoped. Anisha Fields set design was interesting to look at while Lucia Sanchez Roldan’s lighting and Joseff Harris’ sound design made sure all production elements were strong.
While they fell short at times due to the limitations of the choices imposed on them, the actors themselves did a fine job of showcasing their talents. Dan Skinner gave a powerful performance as the complicated Dinny while Killian Coyle made the most a far more limited and underwritten role as Blake. Emmet Byrne showcased wonderful versatility as Sean in a performance that came the closest to connecting with the audience, while Rachelle Diedericks was a breath of fresh air as Hayley.
The way the three family members transport from their normal selves to a number of characters thanks to quick changes involving wigs, fake moustaches and even womens clothes created an interesting element to the production and was a testament to the talent and resilience of the cast in roles that must have been demanding.
Sadly, there was something about The Walworth Farce that failed to connect with me. While I appreciated the attempt to do something different with two very contrasting tones, it failed to land with me personally. Reading up about the show, the themes it hoped to portray such as dependence on a mythologised version of the past didn’t resonate in the way that was intended and as such left me feeling underwhelmed by the whole thing.
However, the new theatre Southwark Playhouse Elephant in itself was glorious. Far more spacious and modern than its sister venue, it was beautifully comfortable and thankfully completely accessible. The theatre in itself is a welcome addition to the London theatre scene and I look forward to many more trips there to see what promises to be an exciting line-up of shows. It is just a shame my first trip there wasn’t all I had hoped. The show itself did have some good qualities including its wonderful cast. While I may not have been completely won over, it definitely wasn’t a complete farce.
The Walworth Farce plays at Southwark Playhouse Elephant until 18th March. Tickets from https://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/productions/the-walworth-farce/
Photos by David Jensen