The Walworth Farce - Southwark Playhouse Elephant
Enda Walsh’s play opens the brand new venue at Elephant and Castle
South London has only gone and got itself a new venue, a stone's throw away from its sister venue Southwark Playhouse the new space is modern, fresh and delightfully versatile. The basement performance area has flexible seating layouts and will work wonderfully as a blank canvas for the highly talented designers that will step through the door. Also, the legroom is fantastic and the staff incredibly welcoming in true Southwark Playhouse style - a truly exciting addition to the London theatre scene.
But all is not what it seems in the grubby flat on Walworth Road, the mouldy wallpaper and grubby kitchen have seen far too much. Hidden away from the world Dinny and his two sons spend each day recreating Dinny’s final day in Ireland in constant competition for the routinely polished best actors trophy. Only Sean is allowed out of the building to buy the daily edible props for their play with threats of violence and terror keeping the two lads under control. But when an unexpected visitor buzzes the door niggling questions and murmuring doubts resurface, breaking the hypnotic cycle.
The piece treads an odd but ambitious line between slapstick comedy and truly a gritty mystery but struggles to fully deliver on either. Much of the humour gets overlooked as we are trying to understand what is going on and then the scale of the horror is diminished as the comedy is pushed forward. If there was a deliberate pivot point between the two it could be far more effective - though plenty of the silliness earns itself worthy laughs from the audience nonetheless.
Absolute madness ensues on the new stage as the three men go through the motions of their daily performance - Sean (Emmet Byrne) taking on all the male roles with wondrous physicality - intense vulnerability on show as he reluctantly goes along with his father’s wishes. Blake (Killian Coyle) is more willing to get stuck in as he and a copious amount of wigs perform the female characters in the story until an inner conflict takes over him - another strong performance. Dinny (Dan Skinner) with his homemade lighting and sound controller drives the farce forward with casual egotism confident that today, like every day he will win the best actor trophy - maybe because he is the one that awards it. His blind determination to maintain the status quo apparent in Skinner’s fantastic performance. Rachelle Diedericks completes the cast, her character unaware of the world she is knocking on the door of. Her initial naivety adding a good variety to the humour, though I was left wanting to see more of her reactions to the madcap events unfolding around her.
Design from Anisha Fields ensures that the action is nicely visible across the three rooms, each one packed with exquisite detail and Nicky Allpress’s direction ensures this piece is relentless in its pace - never faltering. The source material however means that despite excellent performances and creative team effort the evening feels a tad messy and ever so slightly underwhelming albeit a fun and silly romp with a touching nod to the new theatre’s location - a mere few minutes walk away from Walworth Road.
Running till 18 March - Tickets
Photography - David Jensen