I was asked recently to write something about my favourite book. As it’s a question that I get asked a lot when I tell people I studied English at uni, I thought I’d share it here. (Disclaimer: The Walworth Farce isn’t actually my favourite play, which changes regularly, but it’s up there).
The plot of The Walworth Farce by Enda Walsh is too complicated to explain in full. It’s set in a council flat on the Walworth Road, although, as playwright Enda Walsh believes ‘theatre does not come from a real place’, it’s a claustrophobic and inward-looking world. Irish émigré Dinny and his sons, Sean and Blake, spend every day in the same way: Sean buys the same shopping from Tesco (sliced pan, chicken) and then they perform a farce about Dinny’s flight from Ireland, including, as all the best farces should, intrigue, murder, and a toy dog impaled on a stick. On the day the play is set, the farce starts to break down. Sean, distracted by the cashier in Tesco, has picked up the wrong props. The small mistake creates a butterfly effect, leading to the hilarious disintegration of the farce. As Dinny tells Sean, ‘The story doesn’t work if we don’t have the facts and Ryvitas aren’t the facts…they’re not close to the facts […] A Ryvita’s a great leap of the imagination’.
But Dinny’s story is not ‘the facts’. The Walworth Farce is about the potential tyranny of stories and performance. It is also very funny and encourages virtuoso performances from its actors, in the swift character changes and complex layers of metatheatre.
I first encountered Walsh’s play on a playwriting course with Menagerie Theatre Company in Cambridge. It is a lesson for playwrights in the intricacies of plotting and the creation of narrative and theatrical worlds. In my own work, I love experimenting with form and metatheatre, and Walsh has clearly had an influence on my style. My play, Canon Warriors, which I took to the Edinburgh Fringe last year, is about two feminist puppeteers, Punch and Fleur, living in a beach hut in Thanet. They stage parodic rewrites of canonical Jacobean plays. The puppets are more than their day-jobs, they also provide a means for Punch and Fleur to communicate with each other and say the things that can’t be said in their relationship.
The Walworth Farce is a play I’ve thought about both from a playwriting and an academic perspective. I ended up writing my undergraduate dissertation on it.
I love The Walworth Farce because it is a play that gives back each time you watch/ re-read it. The first time I read it, I remember being baffled by the first twenty pages or so, until I realised that the audience wasn’t supposed to understand it. Recently, I have also grown more troubled and frustrated by its postmodern, political quiescence. I’ve begun to think that maybe theatre has a duty to ‘come from a real place’ and to report back to the world outside.
If you’d like to read a more academic version of my thoughts on The Walworth Farce, you can read my article ‘Narrative Dysfunction in The Walworth Farce by Enda Walsh and On Raftery’s Hill by Marina Carr’, recently published in Studies in Theatre and Performance, here: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14682761.2017.1304733