Enda Walsh sits down to chat to Irish Times journalist Róisín Ingle.
‘Hugh O’Conor’s nervous wreck with a big heart is an absolute joy … Charlie Murphy is simply astonishing … Oona Doherty is utterly exhilarating … an utterly unforgettable experience’
★★★★ ’What is new and fresh about Arlington is the way in which Walsh harnesses a variety of different tools to create his world … this is theatre as Total Theatre. Theatre as true collaboration’
Written by Sara Keating for the Sunday Business Post 19.02.17 – Read the full review here
Enda Walsh has chosen to do this interview while walking his cockapoo Alvin in a London park. As a result, the tape of our conversation is regularly punctuated by his cries of mingled despair and affection: “No, we’re going this way,”, “Please, don’t eat that,” and “Alvin, get out of the pool!” It’s a little distracting, the acclaimed Dublin-born playwright admits, but having a domestic routine is extremely important to him – especially since “I spend about 80pc of the time living inside my head”.
For the next few weeks, sadly, Alvin is going to see a lot less of his master. This month Walsh’s work will be staged at Ireland’s national theatre for the very first time, with an Abbey production of his dystopian drama Arlington to be followed in March by its companion piece Ballyturk. As if that was not enough, February 13 will also see the premiere of his latest play – a site-specific piece called The Same staged at the old Cork Prison and produced by the Corcadorca company where he first made his name.
Ironically, Walsh had once intended 2017 to be a quiet year. He lost his mother, one of his closest friends and his most famous collaborator, David Bowie, in the space of a few months, while recent political events left him feeling that the world is “a complicated and scary place”.
“But instead of sitting back I just kept working, trying to eke out some hope and love,” he muses. “It’s been like having a conversation with myself during a really depressing time.”
Being in the Abbey, he cautiously allows, is an important milestone in his career.
“I’m such a cold fish that I rarely think about these things beforehand, but I probably will when I sit down on opening night. I do consider myself a profoundly Irish writer, like a mixed soup of Tom Murphy, Samuel Beckett, Sean O’Casey and lots of others – although I don’t feel a weight on my shoulders like some people in Britain seem to expect.”
When Walsh was writing his breakthrough play Disco Pigs in the mid-1990s, however, he could not have cared less about Ireland’s theatrical establishment.
“The Abbey seemed staid, conservative, irrelevant,” he recalls. “I still don’t think they’ve produced many great writers or directors over the last 20 years. In Corcadorca there was no need to ‘stick it to the man’ because for us ‘the man’ didn’t exist.”
For this reason, Walsh is particularly excited about being asked to write a new play for Corcadorca’s 25th anniversary. The Same has reunited him with director Pat Kiernan and actress Eileen Walsh, who co-starred in the original Disco Pigs with a then unknown local musician called Cillian Murphy.
“It feels familiar but also incredibly exciting to be in the same room again,” Walsh enthuses.
“Using Cork Prison helps to make the play part of a much larger thing, just like we used to put on shows in nightclubs and all sorts of weird venues. And Cork is a place I’ve always loved – it’s laid out like a natural amphitheatre.”
Walsh is a candid, good-humoured and exceptionally profane interviewee (most of these quotes have expletives deleted). He famously hates being asked what his surreal and dreamlike plays are about, often giving journalists the glib response, “It’s about 80 minutes.
Thankfully, he is willing to supply at least a few more details about The Same, describing it as the story of a woman who arrives in a new city and meets an older version of herself.
“There are two interlocking monologues that eventually become a dialogue,” he explains. “What advice can they give each other and how do they learn to embrace all the failures of their past?”
As this oblique summary suggests, Walsh has no interest in giving his audiences simple linear narratives or neat moral messages. “I used to write plays where you could walk away at the end thinking, ‘Yeah, got it.’ Not any more. Now I want to do more atmospheric work that has a loose shape and allows you to bring your own interpretations. It should bypass the intellect and go straight into your bones.”
Like many people Walsh finds the news “pretty bloody miserable” these days, which helps to explain why his recent dramas all have an overwhelming sense of dread.
Arlington, which was premiered by Landmark Productions at last year’s Galway International Arts Festival, is a futuristic love story with echoes of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and partly influenced by the Brexit campaign (“It showed that Britain has a real inferiority complex.”)
Ballyturk is a giddy romp featuring two young men trapped in a womb-like space, written shortly after Walsh read the Ryan Report on Ireland’s industrial schools.
“I’m never going to comment directly on something like Donald Trump or the Syrian refugee crisis,” he says, “but you can’t avoid being affected by the sense of crisis and terror around us.”
Walsh’s apocalyptic vision may be why David Bowie seems to have seen him as a kindred spirit.
“When I asked him if we could write something like one of his songs, he laughed and said, ‘You’ve been doing that for years, Enda!’ David had absolutely no ego, he just loved making stuff and was constantly Skyping me to discuss new ideas.”
Bowie and Walsh spent 18 months co-creating the musical Lazarus, which opened on Broadway in December 2015 – only a few weeks before the pop icon died of liver cancer.
“Although I knew he was very sick, there was no sense that death was imminent until I saw him on opening night in New York. Then it hit me.
“I really miss him, but I’m so glad that Lazarus turned out the way we wanted – not warm and all-embracing like most musicals but cold like a feverish sort of dream.”
Not surprisingly, sharing a byline with David Bowie has left Walsh more in demand than ever.
“But I don’t have a commercial bone in my body and I constantly fire myself from jobs,” he protests, adding that with his 50th birthday approaching, he is already starting to think about retirement.
“As much as I adore writing, switching off this brain and living quietly in Ireland again sounds like a nice potential future.”
Then he calls Alvin to heel one last time and concludes, “Maybe in two dogs’ time!”
Written by Andrew Lynch for The Independent 05.02.17
Enda Walsh and Charlie speak to Miriam O’Callaghan during production of Arlington at the Abbey Theatre.
Landmark Productions and Galway International Arts Festival are delighted to announce that Arlington, written and directed by Enda Walsh and choreographed by Emma Martin, will play at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, as the opening production of the inaugural season by the new Directors of the Abbey, Graham McLaren and Neil Murray. Announcing the season, McLaren and Murray said: ‘This will be the first time the work of Enda Walsh, one of Ireland’s theatrical superstars, will have been seen on the main stage of the Abbey Theatre.’
Arlington stars Charlie Murphy, Hugh O’Conor and Oona Doherty. Following its run at the Abbey Theatre, Arlington is set to tour to St. Ann’s Warehouse in New York in May 2017.
Arlington runs at the Abbey Theatre from 10-25 February 2017. Public booking opens at www.abbeytheatre.ie at 12pm on Friday 2nd Dec, priority booking open now using the code ABBEY2017.
Landmark Productions and Galway International Arts Festival are delighted to announce that Arlington by Enda Walsh will have its New York premiere at St Ann’s Warehouse in May of next year.
The production, written and directed by Enda Walsh and choreographed by Emma Martin, will play a four-week season at the prestigious New York theatre. Starring Charlie Murphy, Hugh O’Conor and Oona Doherty, the production also features the voices of Olwen Fouéré, Helen Norton and Stephen Rea.
Among the highlights of St. Ann’s Warehouse 2016/17 Season are the Donmar Warehouse production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest directed by Phyllida Lloyd; Kneehigh’s 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips by Michael Morpurgo and Emma Rice who also directs; a new play by Daniel Kitson Mouse – The Persistence of an Unlikely Thought; and the epic A 24-Decade History of Popular Music by the avant-garde New York performance artist Taylor Mac which opens the season.
Arlington will run from 3 – 28 May 2017. www.stannswarehouse.org.
★★★★ ‘a more openly avant-garde piece than some of [Walsh’s] previous creations … Isla (winningly played by Charlie Murphy) … a gorgeous sequence from dancer Oona Doherty … Doherty delivers a compelling set-piece … powerful … Arlington has humour, but it’s grounded in a deep sadness, a kind of grief and struggle for acceptance about the way life is. At times, it seems less like a play than a hybrid work of abstract art … You may leave not knowing everything about what it’s about, but still feel deeply absorbed in its tensions and jagged rhythms, its palpable, heart-throbbing sense of isolation. As a mood-piece, it’s an intriguing and rewarding drama’
Written by Nadine O’Regan for the Sunday Business Post 17.07.16 – Read the full review here
★★★★ “new form of theatre that includes drama, dance, music and … a powerful dystopian drama … weaving [Walsh’s] closely textured poetic prose into a new form of comprehensive, category-defying theatre.
No Galway international arts festival seems complete without a new play by Enda Walsh.
His latest, set in a suburban seaside leisure centre, deals with Walsh’s familiar themes of entrapment, isolation and imagined worlds. While it may not have the manic exuberance of his brilliant play Ballyturk (2014), it deals with the capacity of love to survive loss and death, and shows the playwright enthusiastically embracing a new form of theatre that includes drama, dance, music and visual art.
The set itself, designed by Jamie Vartan, is like an art installation. It depicts a waiting room of startling anonymity: three plastic chairs, a Swiss cheese plant, a ticket dispenser and a screen displaying illuminated numbers. We could be in a large hospital or an anteroom to hell. In fact, we are in one of the towers that dominate a nightmarish future city where the imprisoned Isla waits to learn her fate. Her only human contact is with a young man who sits in an adjacent control room operating the cameras that keep her under constant surveillance and listening to the stories she invents about the outside world.
Both characters are victims of a tyrannical system, and their attempt to elude it has strong echoes of Orwell’s 1984.
Almost all of Walsh’s plays deal with hermetic fantasists. The big difference here is that they are subject to a dictatorship, and the piece, subtitled “A Love Story”, suggests that the human spirit can withstand oppression. But I found Arlington less fascinating for what it says than for the way it says it. For a start, Walsh is clearly out to demolish the distinction between drama and visual art. A feature of the Galway festival is an installation, written and directed by Walsh, in which we sit in three rooms listening to the recorded voices of their past inhabitants. One of them, in which a woman recalls the family bedroom she quit as a child, is spoken by Charlie Murphy (who plays Isla in Arlington), and is no less theatrical than the staged event.
Walsh is also creating a theatre in which movement exists on an equal footing with text. In Ballyturk, we saw Cillian Murphy leaping on to a high ledge and Mikel Murfi physically evoking the inhabitants of an entire village. In Arlington, we see Isla gliding round the floor to a version of Baby, I Love You with an imagined partner and there is a long, wordless, central section in which Oona Doherty, to Emma Martin’s choreography and Teho Teardo’s music, expresses through movement the fury, frustration, grief and occasional gladness of the incarcerated. Her performance is every bit as pivotal to the play’s meaning as that of both Charlie Murphy as the pent-up prisoner and Hugh O’Conor as a technician caught up in a terrifying world of closely monitored control.
Arlington is certainly a powerful dystopian drama, even if it resorts to a self-sacrificing romantic gesture that Dickens would not – indeed did not –disdain. But when I’ve forgotten the ideas, I shall still recall Walsh’s boldness in weaving his closely textured poetic prose into a new form of comprehensive, category-defying theatre.
Written by Michael Billington for The Guardian 19.07.16
Enda Walsh’s new play is quite a trip … his quest to push theatrical boundaries results in a powerful experience in which choreography, music and video collide … a delightfully funny, nerdy, nameless young man (Hugh O’Conor). Endearingly, they fall in love. Dark political themes of displacement and loss are woven into a narrative going from sitcom and frantic farce to inevitable tragedy. The setting is tempered by the sensitive performances, but also Teho Teardo’s terrific music and Jack Phelan’s transformative video design. Adam Silverman’s highly charged lighting … Emma Martin’s expert choreography … pivotal contemporary dance sequence’
Written by Fiona Charleton for The Sunday Times 17.07.16 – Read the full review here