‘Delicately meticulous with detail’: ROOMS – Barbican Centre

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Silk Street Theatre, Barbican, London

Perhaps it depends on the order in which you see them. Then again, perhaps it makes no difference at all. Enda Walsh whose Grief is the Thing with Feathers has also been playing at the Barbican (with Cillian Murphy) is not a writer to insist, you feel, on the linear order of things.

These five rooms, each premiered, one by one, for Galway’s International Arts Festival, and directed by Walsh, tell of stories and lives lived sideways on. Of lives truncated, squashed into uglier, unfulfilled shapes than their narrators would have hoped for or wished for.

Walsh speaks of how influenced he is by what he senses has passed in rooms he enters. Indeed, “if walls could speak…” might be the subtitle to Rooms because the lives narrated by each character speak of the past in rooms where secrets have been heard and held within those walls.

In small groups of no more than five or six, we’re invited to eavesdrop and bear witness to these disparate characters by entering these rooms. Each character, in a sense, is open to conjecture. Nothing is entirely specified as to who they are. And each spectator will bring with them their own background and response to the words and the atmospheres which is so often the attraction of these ‘immersive’, ‘site specific’ events.

As you enter the Barbican’s Silk Street Theatre – housed within the Guildhall School of Music and Drama next door to the Barbican – you’re confronted by five white boxes. We wait, in turn, for each group to enter and then exit their allotted space.

Locked in for a short duration (no more than 15 minutes), Walsh’s worlds come to us in rooms delicately meticulous with detail (by Paul Fahy) for their appropriate location.

Like shards of broken glass, each one is in its own way tortuous, nowhere more so than the dust-filled, choking box room of Office 33A – a pokey, cement and rubble filled space in which our character presents himself as an official in waste management – waste being the operative word.

© Andrew Downes for GIAF, the Office, of the waste management official…timeless…

A waste of space perhaps, he and the young woman upstairs he one day catches sight of and begins yearning for.

But our man is a man lost for words (unlike his creator). He hates the sound of his own voice. `They’d collapse these words towards my mouth like graceless cakes nudged from a counter-top.’

And, as in all these stories, the walls of this dingy office soak up and play home to his frustrations, his dreams, his unfulfilled hopes. We learn too of threats, unspecific but real. `They’re coming for me…they’re coming for all of us’, are the only words uttered by his unattainable love.

© Andrew Downes for GIAF, A Girl’s Bedroom complete with every sign of love and affection, stuffed toys galore, games, but…

Enda Walsh’s Rooms is not for the faint-hearted in the sense that no glimmer of hope enters any of the stories. Not in the Bathroom where a young man looks back in agony on the day he was parted from his brother, John; not in a young woman looking back on her Bedroom and finding no love in that home; nor in the wife in a Kitchen trapped by bitterness and fury.

All bear the stigmata of memories and past lives that lurch uncomfortably back into the present.

All too tell of lives unlived, `things not said, friends unmet…talks not taken…loves avoided…children not born…dreams not made…paths not walked…views unseen…embraces not given or felt…’

© Andrew Downes for the Galway International Arts Festival, Kitchen, typical galley (not unlike mine and million others…)

But what writing. If Walsh’s writing bears the unmistakeable influence of Samuel Beckett in its stream-of-consciousness and monologuic framework, the freight and colour of his thought emphasises family and childhood even more chillingly.

Even in the one story from which I personally took a little comfort, the dingy hotel room 303 – though heaven knows, a priest facing his dying moments without even the succour of his Christian belief offers little in the way of sustenance – as `recorded’ by Niall Buggy, the lilt and cadence of his voice works its own remarkable miracle: a kind of peace and in his dying moments, memories of a family childhood where the sun did actually shine.

© Andrew Downes for GIAF, hotel room 303, anonymous, people soaked, if the walls could talk…

Buggy is one amongst a roster of fine Irish actors including the marvellous Eileen Walsh, Paul Reid, Charlie Murphy and Donal O’Kelly.

Don’t go if you want an easy, escapist 75 minutes. But do go for language, atmosphere, the darkest corners of your own psyches touched with raw beauty.

Haunting.

Rooms
By Enda Walsh

Room 303
Niall Buggy

A Girl’s Bedroom
Charlie Murphy

Kitchen:
Eileen Walsh

Bathroom:
Paul Reid

Office 33A:
Donal O’Kelly

Director: Enda Walsh
Designer: Paul Fahy
Lighting Designer: Adam Fitzsimons
Sound Designer: Helen Atkinson
Master Carpenters and Draughtsman: Pete Nelson, Tony Reid
Scenic Artist: Ger Sweeney
Carpenters: Tony Cord, Ali Kearns
Draughtsman (Room 303): Tom Rohan
Photographers: Colm Hogan, Patrick Redmond, Andrew Downes, Paul Fahy
Props Master: Ciara O’Reilly
Sound Engineer (Office 33A, Kitchen, Bathroom): Helen Atkinson
Sound Engineer (A Girl’s Bedroom): Nick Sykes
Sound Engineer (Room 303): Joe Birditch

Producer and GlAF Artistic Director: Paul Fahy
Festival CEO: John Crumlish
Financial Controller: Gerry Cleary
Communications and Development: Hilary Martyn
Administration: Elizabeth Duffy

Presented by the Barbican with Galway International Arts Festival.
First premiered at the GlAF and then toured to Washington and New York.

First perf at the Silk Street Theatre, Barbican, London, April 11, 2019.
Runs to April 19, 2019

Review published on this site, April 13, 2019

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Carole Woddis on RssCarole Woddis on Twitter
Carole Woddis
Carole Woddis has been a theatre journalist and critic for over 30 years. She was London reviewer and feature writer for Glasgow’s The Herald for 12 years and for many other newspapers and magazines. She now review for websites including The Arts Desk, Reviews Gate and London Grip and blogs independently at woddisreviews.org.uk. Carole is also the author of: The Bloomsbury Theatre Guide with Trevor T Griffiths; a collection of interviews with actresses, Sheer Bloody Magic (Virago), and Faber & Faber’s Pocket Guide to 20th Century Drama with Stephen Unwin. For ten years, she was a Visiting Tutor in Journalism at Goldsmiths College and for three years with City University. Earlier in her career, she worked with the RSC, National Theatre, Round House and Royal Ballet as a publicist and as an administrator for other theatre and dance organisations.
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Carole Woddis on RssCarole Woddis on Twitter
Carole Woddis
Carole Woddis has been a theatre journalist and critic for over 30 years. She was London reviewer and feature writer for Glasgow’s The Herald for 12 years and for many other newspapers and magazines. She now review for websites including The Arts Desk, Reviews Gate and London Grip and blogs independently at woddisreviews.org.uk. Carole is also the author of: The Bloomsbury Theatre Guide with Trevor T Griffiths; a collection of interviews with actresses, Sheer Bloody Magic (Virago), and Faber & Faber’s Pocket Guide to 20th Century Drama with Stephen Unwin. For ten years, she was a Visiting Tutor in Journalism at Goldsmiths College and for three years with City University. Earlier in her career, she worked with the RSC, National Theatre, Round House and Royal Ballet as a publicist and as an administrator for other theatre and dance organisations.

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