The New Electric Ballroom, Riverside Studios, London
Wednesday 11 March 2009
The presence of the great Irish actress Rosaleen Linehan in Enda Walsh's The New Electric Ballroom is reason enough to see the play, though the poor woman has to deliver her first lines into a crack in the wall with her back to the audience, and her last while standing in a puddle of her own urine.
I've seen both of these "tricks" before: the late Alastair Sim tried to hide from his wife on the warpath in a Pinero farce by trying to assimilate himself into the wallpaper; and Jane Horrocks wet herself while playing Lady Macbeth with Mark Rylance.
In both instances, the actors were amazingly real (Horrocks really did piddle every night on stage). The genius of Linehan is that she fakes both tricks but still gives a shattering performance as an old, vaguely genteel Irish peasant in a remote fishing village that life has passed by. She's practised for this as the best Winnie in Beckett's Happy Days I've seen outside of Madeleine Renaud. Walsh's play has pronounced elements of Beckett, as well as of Joyce and Dylan Thomas, and a fair old bit of his own native wood-notes wild.
He's a wonderful writer (he co-wrote Steve McQueen's Hunger) and he lays down words with more joyous clatter than anyone else currently writing in the theatre, even in Ireland.
Linehan plays one of two old sisters – the other is Ruth McCabe, pretty good, too – in a living room that doubles as a fish cannery where their traumatised younger sister (played utterly traumatised by Catherine Walsh) spools back a winding tape and puts up with the noisy incursions of a gobshite called Patsy (played with convincing idiocy by Mikel Murfi), who throws some fish down the hold then strips off in a tin bath and sings the song that drove them all nuts in the electric ballroom.
So, it's not Ayckbourn or Stoppard you're getting here, exactly, but something a bit madder and edgier from the wonderful Druid Company in Galway that made a stir at last year's Edinburgh Festival. It's a companion piece to Walsh's earlier The Walworth Farce, also written for Druid, and another madcap carry-on, slightly sadder, of a family lost in its past and braying to God for an even break.
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