DRUID THEATRE Company’s award-winning production of Enda Walsh’s blistering New Electric Ballroom comes to the Town Hall shortly for a brief run as part of a national tour.
Since its premiere at last year’s Galway Arts Festival, Walsh’s play, which he directs himself, has garnered numerous accolades and awards both here and in the UK; being named Best New Play in The Irish Times/ESB 2008 Theatre Awards and also securing coveted Fringe First and Herald Angel Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe festival.
A companion piece to The Walworth Farce, which Druid also staged, New Electric Ballroom focuses on three reclusive sisters living in a remote fishing village whose lives have been shaped and warped by a fleeting romantic encounter years before, at the eponymous ballroom, with showband start Roller Royle.
As elder sisters Breda (Rosaleen Linehan ) and Clara (Val Lilley ) obsessively re-live both the hope and heartbreak of that fateful evening we wonder whether younger sister Ada (Catherine Walsh ) might ever get her own chance at love or independence.
As Joyce McMillan wrote in The Scotsman: “All of this and more is magnificently conjured up, both in Walsh’s poetry - which soars to fantastic heights, veering between rapid and hilarious ironic evocations of town life, and a dark, bitter, erotic lyricism.”
One person who is very well placed to appreciate the strengths of Walsh’s script is actor Mikel Murfi. Having previously directed The Walworth Farce, Murfi’s memorable performance as local fishmonger Patsy in New Electric Ballroom saw him named as Best Supporting Actor in The Irish Times/ESB Theatre Awards.
“It’s sweet for me to have both directed and acted in Enda’s work,” Murfi enthuses speaking from London as the play draws to a close of its run there. “Enda writes fantastically well for theatre. He’s a great writer for actors. His text is very ‘deliverable’.
“In the play it’s like the characters are constantly under pressure and you get to delve into these terrorised visions, and to express and transmit them into the audience’s minds somehow. It’s like lobbing emotional hand grenades.”
While Patsy initially appears to be a simple-minded figure of fun, in one transcendent heart-rending scene near the play’s climax, he is magically transformed and a shimmering vista of love seems to beckon between himself and Ada.
“Patsy initially seems just to be this local yokel who does nothing but repeat all the snippets of news he picks up around the town,” Murfi notes, “but then Enda turns all that around, with great skill, and gives him the possibility of finding something much deeper with Ada. It’s a great part and I was thrilled to do it.”
Murfi reflects on the parallels between New Electric Ballroom and Walworth Farce.
“In both plays you have characters in this enclosed space and we have a world where a family is telling stories about itself and those stories somehow confirm the characters’ identities and stabilise their worlds to a degree,” he said. “I think we all define ourselves through our family stories and memories - Enda just takes that trait and puts a grenade under it and turns it into something very very theatrical.”
New Electric Ballroom is at the Town Hall from Wednesday April 15 to Saturday 19 at 8pm. For tickets contact the Town Hall on 091 - 569777.