Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Enda Walsh's The Walworth Farce in the Olympia starring Brendan, Brian, and Domhnall Gleeson. The only way I could possibly describe it without giving away anything about the plot is that it was possibly the most Cork thing that has ever happened to me. It was so Cork I fell asleep last night with a Cork accent in my head. Even visiting Cork is undoubtedly less Cork than this production.
It was my first time ever seeing an Enda Walsh play. I was kicking myself over the summer for not getting tickets to Ballyturk when it was in town, and after hearing Stephen Rea and Cillian Murphy sing the praises of his fast-paced dialogue, I was determined to see the next one that came along. However I'd be lying if I said the main draw for me wasn't seeing three Gleesons on one stage.
The Walworth Farce is both hysterically funny, thanks in part to it’s energetic slapstick and a running gag involving a pair of orange underpants, and darkly bizarre in equal measure. It swaps between the two so consistently, that the audience finds itself on a dramatic rollercoaster, but that’s not to say the play has no balance or equilibrium. At the beginning, you wonder “What the actual fuck is going on on that stage?”, but as the plot starts to unfold, the real story begins to show itself while simultaneously growing more and more chaotic. It was seamless, and I’ve never seen anything like it.
All three Gleesons give a stellar range of performances as multiple characters in their play within a play, as well as showing deep vunerability, desperation and isolation as their main characters.
While Brendan has played a huge range of characters over the years from loud and exuberant like in Breakfast on Pluto or Braveheart, to stoic and philisophical like in Calvary, he almost always brings a warmth and likeability to his roles. His ubiquity and presence in so many of the films I have loved growing up is almost comforting. This sits in stark contrast to his character in The Walworth Farce, whose cold, paranoid demeanor is truly chilling throughout. However we still see the slightest glimmers of that same warmth which brings a superb complexity to the role. Having the ensemble played by real-life brothers and their father only added to the play’s intensity, both in its comedy and drama.
Domhnall brought much of his highly relateable doofy awkwardness that I’ve really enjoyed in previous work like RTE’s Your Bad Self, Sensation, and the opening scene in Frank. He is effortless in his use of the space, his lanky frame, and constant costume changes to perfect comic effect. Domhnall’s character is the life and soul of this demented party, offering a hefty amount of the show’s physical gags, while like his father, giving quite a lot of unexpected weight to his role. At times it reminded me greatly of his part in Dredd as the tortured, pitiable, bionic eyed computer programmer.
We are also introduced to another character, played by Leona Allen, who’s “outsider looking in on the madness” acts as the voice of what the audience are all thinking. I can’t really say much else about her character without giving away a lot of the plot, but she is fabulously funny and I thoroughly enjoyed her performance. This is Leona’s first major professional role, and I hope to see her more in future.
In my opinion the acting award, though, goes to the youngest Gleeson, Brian, for tackling probably the most difficult role in the piece. His character’s own emotional struggle was both arresting and touching. I am embarrassed that I’ve nothing to compare his performance to, because I’ve not seen any of his previous work. My Love/Hate box set is still sitting beside the television waiting the watched. Don’t judge me. That said, the Walworth Farce has inspired me to seek out more of Brian’s work.
In terms of production, the set and lighting design were outstanding! DIY cardboard coffins, holes in the walls, dingy soft furnishings and rickety furniture all contributed greatly to the laughs, but it was those same elements that brought such a rich darkness to the story. The lighting was almost a character in and of itself.
Complaints: I do have a couple of them; small, minor ones relating to sound. There was one part of the set, in the bedroom, that I didn’t feel was mic’d up properly on the night. I was sitting in row L in the Circle and occasionally had to crane my neck forward to hear some of the quieter words spoken. Also Brendan had a couple of very important monologues where he took his Cork accent to beyond what I could understand. Maybe blame that one on growing up in America, but as they were important plot points, I would have liked just the tiniest amount more articulation.
Apart from that, I thought The Walworth Farce was spectacular! It was a rare and special thing to see the Gleesons on stage together in a play this good. I feel so fortunate to have been able to go, and the Olympia of course was the perfect setting for this completely bonkers production.