On Friday night I was lucky enough to be invited to the new Southwark Playhouse in Elephant and Castle to see The Walworth Farce and I had a wonderful evening!
We entered a beautifully modern box office and bar area buzzing with other guests. Once we’d collected our tickets and enjoyed a glass of wine we headed down to the stalls to discover an open set with actors in situ. In front of us lay the inside of a London council flat, dilapidated, but functional, cleverly partitioned with red metal piping to delineate the different rooms without distracting the eye. I immediately felt absorbed into the set; this was the first sign that the evening was going to be a success.
I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but what I will say is that the writing worked expertly to make you understand quickly the complexity of the plot. I can imagine it would be incredibly difficult to portray characters acting within a play and constantly switching between different characters and their own. I mean even that sentence was hard to construct, but the script and costume worked wonderfully in almost instantly immersing you into this imagined world of a father and his two sons repeatedly performing this tale of their past. The subtle changes of speech constantly reminded you that these were characters performing within a play and allowed the audience an insight into the story they were telling as well as their character’s thoughts and feelings about that story.
The plot was intriguing and compelling with lots of nuanced twists and turns. This made it easy to empathise with the characters despite not being able to relate to their situation. I think this was incredibly important because often stories set in council houses can be viewed as poverty porn and this really was not the case. The characters are obviously dealing with a very difficult situation and their mental health is clearly affected by this, but at no point is this the punch line of the joke, and there are a lot of laughs! Because each character is well-rounded and shown to have vulnerabilities that we can all relate to, the story, though extreme, feels believable making the play even more powerful.
As I mentioned, although the play covers a serious topic there are lots of comedic moments. These are wonderfully intertwined to create the perfect contrast between the absurdity and the reality of the family’s situation. My favourite moments included the two sons, Sean and Blake, running frantically around the stage to fulfil their roles as different characters whilst a wig was brandished in the air to symbolise the presence of another.
Another highlight for me was the constant acting across the stage. Even when the action was happening elsewhere every character had a purpose, it felt like you were witnessing the behind-the-scenes of a production, with costume changes and prop preparation, but this also worked perfectly to demonstrate how spacially constricted the characters were within their flat, disappearing into cupboards to symbolise offstage in their world.
If you enjoy the almost dystopian then I would highly recommend The Walworth Farce. There’s comedy, there’s tragedy and there’s so much detail. Tickets are available here. If you buy a ticket I would love to hear what you thought so let make know in the comments below.
P.S. If sitting in the centre stalls, I would recommend choosing rows B-D as there are thin pillars slightly blocking the view from row E backwards, they aren’t massively restrictive and didn’t affect my enjoyment of the play, but if possible I would choose another seat.