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The Walworth Farce by Enda Walsh – Southwark Playhouse

Sean (Emmet Byrne) is one of the regular customers at the Walworth Road branch of Tesco Express: there are two branches, as people familiar with the Walworth Road, within easy walking distance of Southwark Playhouse, will be aware, but even this very locally set show doesn’t go as far as pitting one against the other. Hayley (Rachelle Diedericks) works at whichever Tesco is frequented by Sean, and he had picked up someone else’s shopping somehow. Equally inexplicably, Hayley, not having any other connection with Sean, knows precisely where he lives, and pops around with the correct shopping.

From left, Dan Skinner, Killian Coyle & Emmet Byrne. Credit David Jensen.
From left, Dan Skinner, Killian Coyle & Emmet Byrne. Credit David Jensen.

Quite why Sean didn’t simply go back and correct the mistake himself is down to Dinny (Dan Skinner), his father, who exercises totalitarian control over every aspect of Sean’s life, as well as that of Sean’s brother Blake (Killian Coyle). Any errors, however minuscule, however innocently made, are inconsistently responded to by Dinny with disproportionate force. It doesn’t happen every time either or both of the lads make an easily correctable mistake, but nonetheless, it’s difficult to argue against the reasoning that what is being witnessed is abusive behaviour, and consequently it’s also difficult to argue against the reasoning that what is being witnessed is really not funny, however much the production plays to the gallery.

Sean and Blake display symptoms of Stockholm syndrome, and on Dinny’s command re-enact a version of the events leading up to their departure from Cork and resettling in Elephant and Castle: the performances happen regularly. When Sean protests, “None of these words are true,” Dinny is insistent that, “They’re my truth, and nothing else matters.” His truth, however, seems to alter depending on which way the wind is blowing (such that his sons have been in a rehearsal period lasting at least a decade), and it became pretty much impossible for me to keep tabs on what apparently really happened and what were embellishments. Indeed, with multiple characters taken on by each actor, the production seemed to relish deliberately confusing the audience, with not much to distinguish between friends, acquaintances and spouses aside from a change of wigs.

The set is designed in such a way that the audience can clearly see the kitchen and the bedroom as well as the front room, and the family’s fifteenth-floor Walworth Road flat has seen better days, with carpets and wallpaper that could do with replacing. It’s almost an argument in favour of the gentrification that the area has undergone since the play premiered in 2006. I initially thought a ridiculously long pause was a nod to Harold Pinter, but given the sheer Irishness of the play, it is probably an acknowledgement of Samuel Beckett. The final moments, meanwhile, were reminiscent of the final scene in Hamlet.

Overall, however, it was too much work to figure out what exactly was happening, and once I had deduced a narrative of sorts, it didn’t add up to all that much. The cast do the best they can with what they’re given – Byrne’s Sean was very convincing in the play-within-a-play segments as a character very bored of retelling the same story every day after so many years. But so much of the play came across as superfluous and impenetrable that I came away feeling both bemused and confused.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Holed up in a flat on Walworth Road, Sean and Blake diligently recite their father Dinny’s lines as they daily re-enact the moment they fled their home in Ireland. But today’s performance is going to be different: Dinny’s got a rage on because there’s a sausage and Ryvita in place of the chicken dinner, Sean’s head’s not been in it since he came back from Tescos, and the three men are about to receive an unexpected visitor…

CASTING DIRECTORSouthwark Playhouse Presents
The Walworth Farce
By Enda Walsh
17 Feb – 18 Mar 2023

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