Arlington review: No happy ever after in this familiar Enda Walsh story
In a capacious clinical room, a young woman is waiting.
There are surveillance cameras in the corners, uncomfortably bright lighting, a fishless aquarium that spontaneously erupts, a row of blue plastic chairs nailed to the floor, a window giving no sense of a world existing outside.
She is busy performing the rituals of someone who has been kept waiting for a very long time. With his trademark determined indeterminism, Enda Walsh’s newest play is about oppressive captivity, manipulation and the ebbing possibility of being saved.
Receiving its world premeire at the Galway International Arts Festival, there is ominous rumbling in Helen Atkinson’s brilliant soundscape and this partners well with Teho Teardo’s emotive compositions. They contribute to the growing unease established by Jamie Vartan’s stark design.
The curtain peels further back to reveal an adjoining cramped surveillance room. An anxious man is on his first day of work observing, this woman is his subject. He gabbles unstoppably, telling her he looks like his mother, how he hates feet.
Performed by Hugh O’Conor, this unnamed young man appears naturalistic, and extremely vulnerable. We learn her name is Isla (Charlie Murphy), she is more distanced from reality, choreographed, as if she has been gradually emotionally deadened. But for all his bumbling, he is a visionary, he manages to bring her dreams to life, projecting them on to the back wall.
And there are strengths, Oona Doherty’s incredible movement as she wonderfully fills the space in an interrupting but brilliant dance segment, Hugh O’Conor’s enduring endearment as he believes in hope. But there is a lack of cohesion and momentum.
Enda Walsh’s themes this time are extremely familiar. As in Ballyturk and The Walworth Farce, unravelling characters are once again held captive in some kind of limbo, they pass the time reliving moments from their earlier freedom. And this does not pack the same visceral punch as those plays, it is more measured and considered, the emotions kept more contained.