Living Room: an exploration into the meaning of the room in Enda Walsh’s plays.
A theatre is a dark room in which an audience sits, often looking into another room inhabited by characters. Neither of these rooms is a home. But inside the world of Walsh’s plays a room is home, albeit a strange, often surreal, one. This thesis will examine the ways in which Walsh uses the room, not only literally as a designed stage-set but also in terms of its relationship with its inhabitant/s.
In a sense a room also can be the space inside the skull in which a character’s, or indeed, a playwright’s, brain creates an entire world. Using theories of absurd and postdramatic theatre as well land/scape* in theatre, the plays and their rooms will also be interrogated in terms of their socio/political/historical context.
I will be reading all Walsh’s plays but excluding musicals and films. I will also be seeing two of his plays, one, The Same, (2017 Cork Gaol) and the other, Ballyturk (2017 Abbey) in Dublin. I have already seen some of his plays in London including Ballyturk, (2014, National Theatre), Misterman, (2012, National Theatre), Penelope (2011 Hampstead Theatre) Disco Pigs (2011, Young Vic) as well as The Walworth Farce (2007, Traverse) in Edinburgh and in London (2008, National Theatre). In 2016 I saw Gentrification at the Cork Savings Bank. Taking a somewhat cross-disciplinary approach I shall be referring to productions as well as text and using, when I can, images to illustrate my points.
I will be referring to audio and filmed interviews with Enda Walsh: examples include Thomas Conway (4 Nov 2010, Druid website) and Joe Dowling and Fintan O’Toole (25 May 2010, Walker Art Centre). I will also reference a talk Walsh gave to London teachers, which I attended, prior to the première of Penelope. I will look at newspaper interviews, an example being, ‘Everything I’ve written has been about some sort of love and need for calm and peace’ in the Irish Independent (2 Oct 2015). A further interview, with Pat Keirnan, from Corcadorca, which was published in the Irish Examiner (12th Nov 2015), will shed light on Gentrification.
From searching databases I have discovered that there is not much published scholarly work on Enda Walsh but I will use The Theatre of Enda Walsh (2015, Eds. Mary P. Caulfield and Ian R. Walsh) and, in particular, five chapters: Jesse Weaver’s ‘Enda Walsh and Space: The Evolution of a Playwright’, Siobhan O’Gorman’s ‘Sculpting the Spaces of Enda Walsh’s Theatre: Sabine Dargent in Conversation’, Audrey McNamara’s ‘Dead Men Talking: Stagnation and Entrapment in Enda Walsh’s Penelope’, Mikel Murfi’s ‘On Directing and Performing in the Theatre of Enda Walsh’ and Michelle C. Paul’s ‘Ballyturk: Theatre and Event’.
There are articles in drama/theatre and Irish studies journals such as Ondrëy Pilnÿ’s ‘The Grotesque in the plays of Enda Walsh’ (2013) and David Benedict’s ‘High-Octane Ballyturk Bends it Like Beckham’ (2014) although some of these are proving to be rather superficial. I will also be using theatre reviews taken mainly from ‘broadsheet’ papers such as the Irish Examiner, The Irish Times and the Guardian. One such would be Lyn Gardner’s Guardian review of The Walworth Farce (6 Aug 2007) whilst another would be Colette Sheridan’s review of Gentrification (18 Nov 2015) in the Irish Examiner.
There are two theses on Enda Walsh in the UCC library: one is by Jesse Weaver, whose chapter is mentioned above. Weaver’s 2011 thesis ‘Shifting Points: an interrogation of the playwright’s changing roles in Irish Theatre Production’ may not be relevant but the writer is clearly something of an authority on Walsh, and Susan Doyle’s ‘”Blood and the Bandage!”: Influence and Identity in the Theatre of Enda Walsh’ looks intriguing, even if not essential to my work.
In terms of site-specific or site-responsive theatre, which some of Walsh’s plays are, particularly those produced by Corcadorca, I have found Anne Étienne’s ‘Challenging the Auditorium: Spectatorship(s) in “Off-site” Performances’ (2016) and Cathy Turner’s ‘Palimpsest or Potential Space? Finding a Vocabulary for Site-Specific Performance’ (2004).
Additionally I shall try to place the plays into their temporal context as even though they are not explicitly political plays, the playwright is responding to social mores such as racism and immigration (The Walworth Farce 2006) or economic events such as the 1980s recession and the Celtic Tiger boom (Bedbound 2000).
Underpinning all the above might be theory. I may be examining the form of the plays in terms of Theatre of the Absurd referring to Michael Esslin’s classic text of that name (3rd edition, 2001). Opposing this could be the concept of Postdramatic Theatre, for which I would primarily use Hans-Thies Lehmann’s text (2002) but also Cormac O’Brien’s paper (2016) given at IASIL conference at UCC, which was titled ‘Toward an Irish Postdramatic’. Coming at form from a different direction I might refer to Elinor Fuchs and Una Chaudhuri’s (Eds.) Land/Scape/Theater (2002) a text which brings a ‘spatialized aesthetic’ and cross-disciplinary approach to the study of theatre.
Since I have been working my presentation on Enda Walsh I have received some additional suggestions from lecturers in the English Department of UCC. Suggestions include reading Lazarus, even though it is a musical, and various academic texts. One, which sounds interesting, is Northern Irish Poetry and Domestic Space by Adam Hanna. I will be looking at how he handles and organises his ideas. Anne Etienne has suggested some reading, such as Home on the Stage: Domestic Spaces in Modern Drama by Nicholas Grene and even given me an essay of her own. Other interesting texts that I have found through searching the library catalogue include Experimental Irish Theatre by Ian R Walsh, mentioned above re: the volume of essays on Enda Walsh. It, published in 2010 is a little out-of-date but there are others such as Mapping Irish Theatre: Theories of Space and Place by Chris Morash and Shaun Richards which are more current.
In addition to the above mentioned elements of IT I am hoping to have time to blog my thesis as it develops.
* This rendition of landscape as land/scape refers to the title and concept of Fuchs and Chaudhuri’s book.
Not required for literature review.