The current run of The Walworth Farce at The Olympia Theatre, Dublin sees the Gleeson clan (Brendan, Domhnall and Brian) take to the stage as, not surprisingly, an Irish father and his two sons. Dinny (Brendan) is living in a highrise, low income block of flats on Walworth Road with his two sons, Sean (Brian) and Blake (Domhnall). Their daily routine is dictated by Dinny, who allows Sean to go to Tesco to buy supplies once a day. Otherwise, the flat on Walworth Road is their universe. Here, the days are spent rehashing the story of Dinny’s move from Cork to London, with Dinny and his sons enacting all of the characters in his own version of events. Rapid-fire role changes and quick tempo dialogue see the boys swap costumes as well as genders but it is clear that this “play” is for their own benefit and not for the watching audience.
The initial laugh of slapstick humour fades quickly as the reality of the situation begins to creep in; Dinny’s play is his version of events and his son’s have become entangled in their father’s warped antics. Throughout The Walworth Farce there is a resonating sense of sadness and despair that hides behind the plentiful laughs. The boys speak of memories of their mother and how the smell of her roast chicken stuck in their jumpers, even despite the strong winds on the ferry to London. These moments of tenderness hit hard between the wig changes and comedic cardboard coffins. The daily routine is knocked for six when Hayley (Leona Allen), a checkout worker at Tesco, arrives with Sean’s shopping as he mistakenly took the wrong grocery bag from her checkout. The presence of Hayley and her subsequent realisation that all is not well on Walworth Road leads to the true darkness behind the façade immerging.
The madness of the story is portrayed not only through the characters but the excellent set, which at times has several uses, particularly as this really is a play within a play. Whilst the family portrayed by the Gleesons in The Walworth Farce are far from The Waltons (who are mentioned), they are probably a more realistic, if exaggerated, reflection of family life. Instigated by the events that led Dinny to flee to London, they are caught up in a never ending repertoire, trying to make sense of the past, even if it is only their own distorted version of events. Families lie to the outside world and to themselves by portraying their world as they want it to be, in order to maintain some sense of order. With much poignancy Dinny asks “What are we if we’re not our stories?”. Whilst the dialogue can be a bit expositional at times, it is done in a manner that doesn’t feel like you’re being hit in the face with backstory. An excellent production all round; truly deserving of its standing ovation. If you can still get a ticket, go.
The Walworth Farce by Enda Walsh starring Brendan Gleeson, Brian Gleeson, Domhnall Gleeson and Leona Allen.
10 January – 8 February 2015 at The Olympia Theatre, Dublin.
Presented by Landmark Productions. Directed by Sean Foley.