Arlington – Abbey Theatre – Review by Lisa Jewell
Arlington – a production by Landmark Productions and Galway International Arts Festival –
Until 25 February at The Abbey Theatre.
Writer and Director: Enda Walsh
A fresh set of eyes on Enda Walsh, as Lisa Jewell reviews…
Before attending Arlington, I knew precisely four things about it. It’s written by Enda Walsh, who I know to be an acclaimed writer across theatre and film but somehow I had yet to experience one of his plays. It has a relatively short running time of 1 hr 25 minutes with no interval. A striking contrast to its predecessor on The Abbey stage, Anna Karenina, which had a less bladder friendly duration of 3 hrs 20 minutes (with an interval though, to be fair). Also, I knew Arlington had first been staged at last summer’s Galway International Arts Festival. And finally, my companion, who has seen Walsh’s work before, was expecting it to be a “bit weird”.
But apart from these facts, I knew nothing about the play and what was to unfold. And that made the viewing experience all the better, I think. So if I go a little light on the plot detail, it’s all in your best interest.
The play opens in a waiting room where Isla (Charlie Murphy) is skirting around its four corners and idling away her boredom through movement. The first few minutes gives the audience a chance to fully take in the lighting, sound and set design.
All of them are worthy of praise but I have to single out the set design as being exceptional. The waiting room, revealed to be in a high rise tower, is so cleverly observed that the minute details keep resonating throughout the play. It doesn’t feel in any way claustrophobic as the lighting, sound and video design all combine to give a sense of the outside world and of Isla’s past.
Next to the waiting room is a cramped storeroom come administrative space where our other protagonist (played by Hugh O’Connor) is located. He and Isla are separated by a wall and have to talk through the sound system. What appears to be a benign waiting room with its fixed row of plastic seats and its ticket machine is soon exposed as something far more dystopian. However, the back story of this unsettling world is kept at arm’s length by the writer – a move that is sometimes frustrating but understandable, when the focus is on the interior world of the characters.
The cast are reprising their roles from the previous production. Both Charlie Murphy and Hugh O’Connor are excellent as two people who are physically separated from each other but seeking out mutual understanding. It’s a struggle to find that connection in the modern world, even without an actual wall between us. Murphy’s role demands a physicality and a lack of self consciousness that she supplies in spades. O’Connor’s characterisation is spot on – as a slightly bumbling and self-deprecating young man.
Movement and dance are a big component of the play. The movement unnervingly mirrors the despair in the waiting room and it’s expertly choreographed and performed. However, I did find my mind wandering during one lengthy dance section and itched for it to get back to some dialogue.
This dialogue between Murphy’s and O’Connor’s characters was the best part of the play for me (along with the set design). It was sparky, thought provoking and well crafted by Walsh. I wish there was more of it but I appreciate that the production was trying to get away from conventional ‘talk heavy’ theatre – with sound, video, dance, movement, voice overs and dialogue all coming to the forefront. In summary, my theatre going comrade was entirely correct – it was a “bit weird”, but it was my kind of “bit weird”.
Cast: Charlie Murphy, Hugh O’Connor, Oona Doherty, Olwen Fouéré (Voiceover), Helen Norton (Voiceover) and Stephen Rea (Voiceover)
Choreographer: Emma Martin
Composer: Teho Teardo
Set and Costume Design: Jamie Vartan
Lighting Designer: Adam Silverman
Sound Designer: Helen Atkinson
Video Designer: Jack Phelan