Review – The Independent

‘a powerfully political work … it’s as thought-provoking, bewildering a play as Walsh has yet written … given what can only be called a towering production by Landmark and the Galway Arts Festival … intensely moving, layered performances from Charlie Murphy as Isla and Hugh O’Conor as the young interrogator, separately and together intensely moving … Emma Martin’s impressively precise choreography … a seriously impressive and intelligent piece of theatre’


Is it better to submit, and survive to live a half-life? Or to break for fearful freedom, living with an intense awareness in the short period before destruction? Because a bid for freedom will be punished and defeated. It’s the way of all authoritarian societies, whether they masquerade as democracies or are openly totalitarian of the left or right.

 The prolific Enda Walsh’s new play Arlington poses the question in a powerfully political work that turns his trademark devices of pop music, even sweeties, into a metaphor for our increasingly homogenised and controlled society.

Isla has always lived alone in a tower waiting room, aware that she is not truly alone, but merely representative of “what happens”. Ultimately her number will be called and she will face her fate. Periodically, she is interrogated by an unseen controller; she has a new one, a rather nerdy young man who brings a naïve uncertainty to the task of recording the correctness or otherwise of Isla’s answers to his questions. The stories she tells him will decide her fate.

Others have broken under the waiting and taken matters into their own hands, as does another girl who performs a manic 20-minute dance of despair and frustration before throwing herself from the window.

But Isla escapes with the aid of the young interrogator and he has taken her… somewhere. It may have been a place of safety; Arlington? (with all the mental associations of that word with the dead of pointless wars).

Now he has been thrown into the tower room to be punished for his crime, battered and beaten, hapless and hopeless, but newly defiant. And as Isla suddenly appears before him and their love offers the peace of freedom, we are left to wonder if indeed they are together in this or any place; did he take her away only to end it in an act of mercy… or was it all a survival fantasy for two souls lost in an alien world?

It’s as thought-provoking, bewildering a play as Walsh has yet written, and that’s quite a statement, given his reputation for awkward complexity. It’s given what can only be called a towering production by Landmark and the Galway Arts Festival at Leisureland in Galway.

Once again, Walsh directs his own work and gets intensely moving, layered performances from Charlie Murphy as Isla and Hugh O’Conor as the young interrogator, separately and together intensely moving. Oona Doherty dances the suicidal young woman to Emma Martin’s impressively precise choreography. Jamie Vartan’s set is an unsettling parody of bureaucratic waiting spaces, and Adam Silverman’s lighting and Teho Teardo’s music score make up the creative backing for a seriously impressive and intelligent piece of theatre.

Written by Emer O’Kelly in The Independent 18.07.16