Theatre Review: The Walworth Farce

The Walworth Farce
National Theatre
South Bank Centre, London 

Star rating: 3/5
Enda Walsh’s comic farce about a dysfunctional Irish family was the perfect opportunity to explore social work themes, writes Mark Drinkwater. And for this reviewer, there was the added attraction of this play being set on Walworth Road – the south London street where I’ve worked for the past six years.
The browny-orange stage decor sets the tone for three men from Cork stuck in a previous decade. And although there is no overt reference to social care, social workers will be familiar with the many themes portrayed here – family dysfunction, race, immigration, unemployment and mental distress – and with characters who are unable to move on; trapped in both the past and a council high rise
If you can suspend your disbelief at the improbable plot about three Cork men retreating into fantasy, there is hardly a dull moment in this play-within-a-play. My two hours in the South Bank theatre just romped by listening to pin-sharp dialogue  marvellously executed. Denis Conway was particularly impressive as the bullying patriarch Dinny.
But not being the typical mainstream theatre-goer I guess I was always going to be a difficult audience member to please and found this tale a missed opportunity. There was never any real depth of analysis concerning the three male characters and their pitiful lives. More worryingly, a further character that inhabits the second act, a black woman called Hayley, appears to have the sole role of being a helpless victim. Her ethnicity does lend something to the plot, but the Irish playwright’s choice seems insensitive. The subtext of a black woman being constantly victimised made me deeply uncomfortable, and it was unsettling to be in amongst the audience of laugh-out-loud luvvies who thought this was suitable comedy fodder. 
Theatre doesn’t necessarily have to have a social message. But when it chooses to portray disadvantage and deprivation, it does need to impart a degree of sensitivity and understanding.
Mark Drinkwater is a community worker in Southwark, south London.
The Walworth Farce runs until November 29, with shows audio-described on October 24 and 25. 

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