The Walworth Farce, Southwark Playhouse, Elephant
Photo: David Jensen
  • Theatre, Experimental
  • Recommended


‘The Walworth Farce’ review

4 out of 5 stars

The new Southwark Playhouse Elephant theatre opens with terrific revival of Enda Walsh’s twisted classic


Time Out says

This revival of Enda Walsh’s 2006 classic ‘The Walworth Farce’ launches Southwark Playhouse Elephant, a companion to its original space, which has been renamed Southwark Playhouse Borough. The new theatre’s layout makes it feel like a roomier venue, with a split-level bar and balcony seating.

In a terrific bit of publicity, Elephant is just around the corner from the actual Walworth Road. But that’s about the only similarity the shiny new theatre has with Walsh’s play. In a grimily faded flat – a graveyard of empty beer cans with an ominous number of locks on the front door – we watch Dinny (Dan Skinner) and his sons, Sean (Emmet Byrne) and Blake (Killian Coyle) disturbingly and violently act out the farce of the title.

Like a lot of Walsh’s work, this play drops you into its characters’ uncanny, insular world and you have to pick up their rules and rituals as you go along. Dinny and his sons replay a ludicrously fictionalised version of the day that they had to leave their home in Cork and come to London. Everything is blown open – including the truth – when cheerful Tesco cashier, Hayley (Rachelle Diedericks), unexpectedly turns up at the flat to return Sean’s forgotten shopping.

Dinny – played with tyrannical ego and bristling menace by actor and comedian Skinner – is director and star performer of his own self-serving tale. Walsh gradually blurs the overblown, escalating nature of farce with bluntly violent examples of Dinny’s intimidation of his damaged, infantilised sons. The play’s black humour only twists and yawns into darker depths. Our realisation that they have enacted the same play every day, for years, lends every ‘laugh’ a feverish awfulness.

The boys are like broken puppets, with Sean increasingly desperate to cut his strings and go outside. Byrne imbues him with a conflicted sense of defiance and loyalty. This struggle sees him stumble over his lines, enraging Dinny. Coyle, meanwhile, makes it painfully clear in his dead-eyed, slack-jawed vacancy between highly animated roles how much Blake has been broken down and hollowed out. The performance is all he has, and he will go to extreme lengths to protect it.

As the interloper into this nightmarish co-dependency, Diedericks’s Hayley (who is really great at mining the comedy in Walsh’s writing) is initially an engagingly breezy ray of light, awkwardly flirting with Sean and oblivious to his fear on her behalf, before skewering the terror of her situation when Dinny imprisons her in the flat and threatens her (and Sean) into taking part in his family’s cracked role-play.

Director Nicky Allpress skilfully accelerates the pacing of the production as Dinny’s plans unravel, matching the breathlessness of farce. However, Walsh’s script is often strongest in the contrasts with the noise and mayhem, when the brothers’ vulnerability – their fleeting sense that another life might have been possible – emerges. It’s in these smaller moments that the play works as an affecting allegory for the damage that families do, as it barrels towards its bloody conclusion. It’s a strong start for the new Southwark.    


£28, £22.50 concs. Runs 1hr 55min
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