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Farce is typically comically absurd, but Theatre Inconnu is amping it up several notches with its latest production. While The Walworth Farce delivers such farce standards as unlikely, improbable situations, the use of disguise, and a fast-paced plot that drives full-speed ahead until it explodes in a fiery crash, the level of absurdity brings the jokes to a level that director Graham McDonald calls “metafarce.”
The play by Enda Walsh tells the story of Dinny, an exiled Irishman who has kept his two adult sons under lock and key in their rundown 15th floor council flat on London’s Walworth Road since they arrived there almost 20 years ago. With their voices stuck in Cork and the smell of their mother’s roasted chicken stuck in their jumpers, this fantastical family unit stays hidden-away safely from the madness of London, while reenacting their legacy in a daily theatrical production.
Although the story doesn’t seem probable, what makes this production successful is the authenticity of the characters.
McDonald cast Theatre Inconnu’s artistic director Clayton Jevne in the role of Dinny, a tyrannical father who wants nothing more than to erase the realities of his life and replace them with a more theatrical version of events — one that casts a brighter light on his virtues, rather than his immoralities. Jevne’s chops as a leading man bring credibility and legitimacy to a character who would otherwise seem ridiculously preposterous.
As the lights come up, the audience is introduced to what seems, on the surface, to be a normal family; father Dinny (played by Jevne) sitting in his favourite recliner and a son Blake (played by James Rooney) ironing in the bedroom. Quickly though, we realize that this is no ordinary situation. Dinny is applying cream to his bald head to keep his luscious wig from chaffing and Blake is ironing his skirt on a coffin-shaped cardboard ironing board.
When older sibling Sean (played by Graham Miles whom Victoria audiences recently saw as The Interesting Man in Pheonix Theatre’s production of Eurydice) returns from Tesco with the props for the day’s production — six cans of Harp, 15 crackers with spreadable cheese and an oven-roasted chicken with a special blue sauce — the play-within-a-play begins, and there’s no turning back.
Dinny plays himself while Sean and Blake take on the roles of everyone else in the tragic and hilarious story, quickly changing characters with the addition of a wig, a cap, a frock or an apron, and back again with the blink of an eye (or the grab of a crotch). Both portray the characters with the use of caricature — exaggerating and over-simplifying the characteristics of each one with great success. Miles as Sean is a comedic stand out with his physicality and over-the-top renditions (One audience member likened him to a young Jim Carrey, and I agree). Rooney’s Blake was less hilarious and more heartfelt, leading to a few bizarrely intimate moments between the two brothers.
While Dinny is a total stickler with some details (he almost couldn’t go on when sliced bread had to be replaced with Ryvita crackers), he chooses to ignore the true facts of his personal story, making the daily theatrical performance arbitrary to his captive sons, who over the course of the play grow tired of playing subservient and long for freedom.
They enter and exit through two wardrobe doors built on either side of the front door at the centre of the wonderful set designed by Michelle Ning Lo (set design debut for a recent UVic theatre grad), changing their costumes and identities each time as required.
Amidst the chaos, the hustle and bustle quickly makes room for repose and the characters are left with a new story to tell. M