Her Majesty’s Theatre, 58 Grote Street
Reviewed Wednesday March 3rd 2010 (See Festival Guide for dates, times, etc.)
Presented by The Adelaide Festival in association with Druid.
Bookings: BASS outlets 131 246 or http://www.adelaidefestival.com.au
Enda Walsh’s 2005 play is about three expatriate Irishmen from County Cork, at the southern tip of Ireland. They are a father and his two sons, who share a dilapidated council flat on the Walworth Road in the London Borough of Southwark, near the landmark Elephant and Castle and The Old Kent Road. It is an area where teen gangs, drug related crime, stabbings and even shootings are not uncommon.
Dinny, the father, leads his sons Sean and Blake through a daily ritual, where they play out the events that occurred in Ireland that led to them fleeing to London many years earlier. To a strictly scripted story they play the younger versions of themselves, Sean was five and Blake was seven at the time, as well as portraying the other people that were involved, in an absurd parody of the events. Dinny does this in an attempt to hide the truth and rewrite the family history.
Their play uses props, and these are purchased by Sean each day from the local Tesco supermarket. On this day, however, there has been a mix up in the shopping bags and Dinny is enraged as they try to get through their play without the roast chicken, sandwiches and pink wafer biscuits. Although the play continues, Dinny often breaks character and berates Sean for coming home without the correct items. The absurdity has taken on a dark edge of barely suppressed violence.
Hayley, the check-out girl from the supermarket, who appears to have taken a liking to Sean, arrives with the correct bag. This changes everything, as the three men live a secluded life and are unaccustomed to visitors, She is chatty and full of life and is, at first, bemused when they pick up their play where they had left off, ignoring her presence. She finds it all humorous. This does not last long and she is stopped from leaving and forced to become a part of their play. Things get darker as we hear Dinny make Sean recount what really happened all those years before. Violence can no longer be held back.
Walsh’s revolutionary first play from 1996, Disco Pigs, about a young feral couple who had developed their own idiosyncratic language, toured Australia some years back to great reviews and he is continuing to write disturbing and challenging pieces. In this case we see three men, of whom only Sean has left the flat in the last seventeen years, and only then for a twenty minute dash to get the daily provisions from Tesco. This isolation has left the sons still rather childlike and the father has become dangerously psychotic.
Director, Mikel Murfi, has instilled the play with a manic physicality and sense of lunacy worthy of The Marx Brothers and then, just as we think we know where we are going, he gradually increases the creeping awareness that these are, in fact, far more like the Kray brothers.
Michael Glenn Murphy is superb as the controlling father, Dinny, switching back and forth between being the relatively enthusiastic director and lead actor in the family play to a ranting ball of fury. He negotiates Dinny’s constantly changing mood swings with a remarkable fluency and creates a frightening characterisation. Tadhg Murphy also gives a finely crafted performance as the younger son, Sean, showing us the fear held deep within him whildt having the desire to please his unyielding father. Raymond Scannell, portrays the older brother, Blake, with a mixture of suddenly erupting violence beneath which is a concern for Sean, a concern that drives him to an extreme measure. Finally, there is Mercy Ojelade, who brings a nicely naïve brightness to the role of Hayley, bursting into the trio’s gloomy ritual like a tiny ray of sunshine finding a way through the clouds on a stormy afternoon. Her innocence quickly fades as she is drawn into their world and her portrayal of Hayley’s terror is very moving.
The set and costume design by Sabine Dargent is elaborate and detailed. The meagre rooms in the flat are filthy, have deteriorated with years of neglect and reflect the trio who seem to have suffered the same fate. Paul Keogan’s lighting design helps to reinforce this dinginess and the combination of all of these elements creates a bleakness that will have you leaving the theatre a little shaken.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Glam Adelaide Arts Editor.