If Enda Walsh were a rock musician instead of a playwright, bedbound would be seen as a case of "difficult second album" syndrome. After his explosive arrival with Disco Pigs, Walsh's stage work has consisted of the solo piece Misterman (a single, to continue the simile) and now an hour-long piece which has much in common with his first success but would not, of itself, have garnered anything like as much attention or admiration.
It begins with a wonderful coup de théâtre, as a wall collapses on the stage to reveal two figures in bed in a room barely big enough to accommodate it. Nothing that follows, however, lives up to such an opening.
The father, Max (Liam Carney), the would-be retail furniture king of Cork city, recounts his rise and fall with an intensity and linguistic relish particularly concerning sex and violence which suggests a kind of south-west Irish Steven Berkoff; his polio-stricken daughter (Norma Sheahan), immured for a decade, twitches and gibbers hysterically like a cartoon Beckett protagonist, until the pair reach a fatalistic accommodation.
There is the same dark and violent world-view of Disco Pigs, a similar vein of brutally crushed romanticism, and a broadly similar density of language, although where Pig and Runt in the earlier play had evolved their own distinctive argot, Dad and Daughter here are clearly hybrid descendants of the two Messrs B aforementioned. What is missing is the thrilling originality of vision or presentation in Walsh's writing or production. It is half an hour before either of the characters switches out of the historic present tense when recounting past events, and where once the language of Walsh's writing fizzed with an energy as if he had coined each word himself, now it merely shrieks in frenzy. The narrative's casual treatment of Max's acquisition of a wife and begetting of his daughter may fit in with his character, but is even more obviously a perfunctory device to explain Walsh's pre-selected characters and situation; it is as if we can plainly see the bolts joining the plates which make up the play.
Perhaps we are too eager to be astonished again, but although adequate in itself, this is a sad falling-off from such initial brilliance. Its slot at the Royal Court is surely due to the writer's hot reputation more than to the piece's virtues; and like the music industry, the theatre world, even the Court, is growing dangerously preoccupied with new writers as brands rather than as creators of bodies of work.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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