FROM GALWAY to Edinburgh, from London to New York - The Walworth Farce by Enda Walsh has been taking audiences by storm.
Since receiving its premiere with Druid in Galway in 2006, this absurdly funny, yet tender production has wowed audiences and critics alike in New York and won the prestigious Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2007.
Now The Walworth Farce is returning to Galway for four nights only at the Town Hall from Wednesday December 3 to Saturday 6 at 8pm.
Set in a high-rise, semi-derelict, London council flat, The Walworth Farce conjures a hermetic, claustrophobic world inhabited by a psychotic father Dinny (Denis Conway ) and his two adult, though infantile, sons Sean (Aaron Monaghan ) and Blake (Garret Lombard ).
They have been living there for 17 years, cocooned from the outside world which they view with fear and suspicion. Under Dinny’s tyrannical direction, the trio daily enact a crazy ‘play’ of his own devising which purports to reveal how and why they left their native Cork years before.
Using cheap wigs and improvised costume changes, Sean and Blake switch roles with head-spinning velocity as they depict their younger selves and a clutch of other characters in Dinny’s screwball script.
It’s wildly funny but with an underlay of madness. Dinny’s farce is gradually shown to project a false version of events and dangerous shards of truth start to puncture and destabilise his cherished fiction.
Walsh’s play deals with themes of storytelling, fiction, lies, emigration, violence, family ties and freedom in a way that’s powerful, often entertaining, and at times unsettling.
As the domineering paterfamilias and half-crazed ‘play’ director, Denis Conway compellingly conveys Dinny’s scarifying presence while also showing his vulnerability and his genuine, if warped, love for his sons.
It’s a powerhouse performance from the Whitechurch native whose CV already includes a string of memorable appearances with the Abbey, Passion Machine, his own Ourosbouros company, and notable screen roles in the likes of TG4 political drama The Running Mate, Ballykissangel, Michael Collins, and Oliver Stone’s Alexander.
While Conway has carved out a successful career for himself he was actually a latecomer to the stage, as he reveals over an afternoon phone call to discuss Walworth Farce’s Galway return.
“I did a degree in chemistry and taught that for eight years in Zimbabwe,” he begins. “I came back to Ireland in 1988 when I was about 30 or so and ended up joining Meridian Theatre Co in Cork and it all went from there, though I was a later starter really.
“But even when I was teaching I was always very interested in drama. I started getting involved in productions by Whitechurch Macra Na Feirme. My mother was always very active in that so it was really from her side my attraction for the stage came from.”
As a native Corkman, Conway is well-suited to the role of Dinny. Even though Walsh – who initially made his mark as a writer with Corcadorca - has already penned a number of Cork-based dramas, this is Conway’s first time appearing in one of his plays.
“I knew Enda as an actor in Cork,” he recalls. “Then he auditioned me for Bedbound; I would have loved to have played that role but Peter Gowen got the part. Funnily enough the other actor in that play was Norma Sheehan who’s from Whitechurch like myself. Anyway once I was offered the role in Walworth Farce I had no hesitation in taking it, it’s a terrific role.”
Though he missed out on Bedbound, the role of Dinny is almost like a stage-cousin of the intense and manic father from that earlier play.
“Yes that’s true,” Conway notes before laughingly remarking that, “I think Enda has a distorted head! Both characters are quite mad but they’re also full of love albeit in a misguided fashion. I would sometimes ask Enda why the Walworth father was called Dinny seeing as that’s so close to my own name but he’d always just say ‘that’s his name I’m not changing it!’”
Dinny is an undeniably demanding role, requiring Conway not only to depict a character who’s supposed to be an inferior actor but also juggle the play’s twin impulses of farcical comedy and visceral terror.
“Those are the challenge but the rewards are fantastic,” Conway asserts. “Dinny does claim to be the best actor of the three of them so that gives you a little scope in playing him. He also goes from hilarity to pathos over the course of the play and any actor would be proud to play such a role.”
Has Conway noted any difference in audience responses having done the play in Edinburgh, London, and New York?
“Even within Ireland responses differ from place to place,” he reveals. “I think English audiences were not as readily responsive as audiences in Cork or Brooklyn, they were a bit more reticent. But that’s part of your job as an actor, is gauging your audience and pitching the play to them in a way that gets the response you want.
“When we were doing it in London I had to make Dinny a little less manic to make his character clear to the audience. The play did very well in Edinburgh, where there was a very theatrical crowd, we got standing ovations almost every night. It will be interesting to see Galway audiences’ response now, because the play itself has been on such a journey since we last did it there.”
Moving away from Walworth Farce, I ask whether there are any plans for a new series of the excellent TG4 political drama The Running Mate?
“I don’t know what the latest is with that,” Conway declares. “I loved working on that. We were in Dingle while the series was being shot which I and my family loved. I put my son into a local Irish school there and it was great for him because he could see for the first time Irish is a real living language.”
Conway was also one of the battalion of Irish actors drafted by Oliver Stone to feature in his epic Alexander. Conway candidly admits that the film didn’t turn out as successfully as hoped.
“I think it’s impossible to tell Alexander’s story in one film,” he muses. “It probably needs a 10-hour TV series or something like that to do it justice. It was an amazing experience working on it though; I went away to Morocco in September and returned from Thailand the following March.
“I also became firm friends with the other actors in the production – they included Garret Lombard and Tadhg Murphy who are both in Walworth Farce and that close bond we formed in Alexander definitely has helped this show.”
For tickets contact the Town Hall on 091 - 569777.