The Walworth Farce received its premier with Druid in Galway in 2006 and won the prestigious Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Festival in 2007. Having toured from Galway to Edinburgh, from London to New York, Enda Walsh’s dark comedy is again about to be greeted by Irish audiences when it returns for a run in Galway’s Town Hall Theatre and Dublin’s Project Arts Centre. A Dublin native who spent time working in Cork with Corcadorca Theatre Company, Walsh has since moved to London, where I spoke to him about the current production of The Walworth Farce among other things.
The Walworth Farce is about an Irish family in London, did you feel that you wanted to write yourself into that tradition of the immigrant experience, or was it more a case of feeling compelled to tell that story yet make an obvious break from the usual narrative features like lamenting the land?
I think it was just a starting point. There are so many references to those plays and basically it has been written, it’s done, and I think that’s a very good starting point for a play. It was an original commission from Druid and Druid have got an extraordinary tradition. If you look at the body of work that they’ve done, some of their work might be passed off as that type of thing, but these were very significant plays in the seventies. And it’s not a matter of subverting those plays; it was just my starting point. There’s no cynicism involved, it wasn’t like saying “riiiight I’m going to take Kings of the Kilburn High Road and play against that”, because it’s actually a play I’m really, really fond of. I think The Walworth Farce is very quickly not about that at all, you know, the immigrant experience, it’s actually got nothing to do with that at all.
Is that why you chose farce?
Yeah the farce thing, that was a bit of a shock to me that it did become a farce, it ended up being a piece about, I don’t know what the fuck the piece is about, it’s about many, many things to many people. Many people will just see it as a father torturing his sons and making his sons re-enact a day that never really happened in a really really funny way, and distancing themselves from a terrible thing that happened. Many people will see it that way but I don’t see it that way. I see it in a completely different way. But that’s what you hope with work, you stick it out there and people can read whatever the hell they want to read into it.
So how do you see it?
Well I think it’s just about how cracked and stupid the life of a writer is, you write something and demand people to perform it, they’re locked into the performance, it’s like an emotional attack on them as performers, and it’s all a house of cards. It’s an incredibly fucking vulnerable thing you know, theatre. And that’s the thing I like about it, it’s just so awkward and vulnerable and it’s all up there, and it’s only people pretending. They’ve learned lines and there’s some lights and we’re all sitting down here, the spell of that can be broken really easily…by just walking onstage and going “you’re all just pretending”, but as an audience we get on with it and we get completely lost in it and this is why it’s a much stronger medium than film I think, the attachment to it as an audience does work, it’s a deeper experience, for all its flaws, for all its tiny vulnerable things. And for me the play is probably me having a dialogue with myself about how insignificant I fucking feel as a writer, but no-one’s going to see that, apart from anyone who knows what writing is like, how ludicrous it is to get onstage every night and pretend.
How did you arrive at writing plays rather than other things?
It was sort of by complete accident, I was down in Cork about fifteen years ago, and it sounds so naff, but we wanted to make something as a group and it was the only thing that we could make that was cheap and, I’ve no idea really, I mean standing up and making a play it’s sort of like “why the fuck are you doing that? Why are you bothering doing that?” You put yourself through this all the time where you go “why bother, it’s been said already hasn’t it, a fucking million times, so what are you trying to do, show people that you can do it again in a different way? And that’s going to maintain the human being?!”
So why should anyone go to The Walworth Farce two years after it debuted?
Well exactly, well the thing about it is, the work is sort of good and it’s a bloody good play but it’s an incredible production. It shatters you and it connects with you and it enlivens you. There’s that experience of looking at actors onstage and going “oh my god they’re superhuman, how the fuck do they do that?” Vulnerable as it may seem, they’re leaping around up there and they’re connecting with themselves and they’re in a really highly charged emotional state, as a normal human being we don’t get around to doing that, we do it maybe a couple of times a year when someone dies on us, or we’re mugged, but apart from that we sleepwalk through life, and I do too, I’ve got the most boring life. With The Walworth Farce you will piss yourself laughing but it also shatters you. It’s a tragedy played in the rhythms of farce, now that’s an extremely weird thing for an audience, and I think audiences, and particularly Irish people, which is why we’re glad to be bringing it back after touring all over the place with it, have a real sensibility for the fucking strange, for the odd, for the broken, for the dysfunctional, for the mad, and I think we allow it; we allow a bit of madness, a bit of the surreal, so it’ll be great to play to Irish audiences again and go ‘aw fuck, we are fucked people’. We’re sort of wired differently. Irish people are a strange bunch.
You’ve adapted some of your plays such as Disco Pigs into films, and you’ve written Hunger recently with Steve McQueen, is it nice to have a different platform for your work?
Yeah definitely, definitely. The work of a writer on a film, it’s about trying to get to know the director as well as possible. You are writing you and your characters but ultimately you need to ask yourself what a director is and what you can do to get the best out of him. It worked out with Steve McQueen, he’s a very bright guy and a lovely human being actually, it was a very sweet experience.
Your plays are more abstract expressionism rather than naturalism, why do you prefer that style?
Because I think life is pretty strange and pretty complex, and I like the weight of that. And you know fucking hell I live in the world and I go out and see people and go to restaurants and go to dinner parties and the notion of actually trying to replicate what happens at a dinner party and putting it onstage just actually fucking, I would rather drink my own fucking urine than actually trying to replicate that onstage, and I can’t understand it. That’s just not the sort of writer I am, my brain is wired and I don’t mean to sound wanky but I’m used to writing in the way that I’m writing. It’s about the characters on the stage so the audience has to feel that my work has been written by these people. So a lot of the time it’s about me immersing myself in character and letting the characters go for it and not trying to stand in the way and not being morally above them. Everything that I’ve done is about “get the fuck away from Enda Walsh”, because I can’t imagine a more boring fucking evening than listening to someone like me, that just doesn’t work for me.
Your work has won lots of awards, are they important to you as recognition of your work, or do you regard them as more of a token gesture?
No no no, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha, absolutely no, no fucking way, I really, really couldn’t give a shite about them. I mean they are stupid. You can understand the fastest person in the world having an award, because he’s the fastest person in the world. But all of those awards for things like a painting or a book or a piece of theatre or a performance or best lighting, you sort of go “what are you talking about?” All that is complete rubbish. It doesn’t mean anything to me at all. There are maybe ten people in the world that I would value their opinion and anyone else you know I really really don’t care, I mean critics have hated my work and really loved it in equal measure, you take everything with a pinch of salt, and you have to be really self-critical yourself. And then there are contemporaries of mine that could really, really hurt me, people that know my work that could turn around and say “do you know what Enda that was pretty shit”, or “that was a bit lame” or “you’re getting quite boring” and that would absolutely fucking crush me. But I think every writer is the same, or anyone that makes stuff. I mean there are certain critics who are a bit like, I mean I could poo on the stage and they’d still go “oh my god, Enda Walsh is so great, look what he did”, and that’s fine but Jesus Christ it’s not about me anymore its about them having conversations with other critics, and the older I get the more I realise how newspapers work and how critics work and in terms of fucking awards I think they’re an absolute no-no, I just think they’re absolutely fucking ludicrous. What use are they? I still have to get up in the morning, and you know what, I’ve got a fucking tonne of confidence anyway and no one’s going to tell me otherwise. No one is going to tell me that I can’t do something.
The Walworth Farce runs from December 8-20 at Project Arts Centre
Words by Jade O’Callaghan