FRINGE REVIEW – Penelope, Druid


Times and dates vary  until 29th August @ Traverse

By Emily P

Enda Walsh is easily one of the best writers of the moment. The UK premiere of his new play Penelope will see a return to the fringe of Druid – and the team behind hits The Walworth Farce and New Electric Ballroom. Since those two brilliant blasts of intelligent air onto the Edinburgh stage Walsh has most famously collaborated with the artist Steve McQueen in the screenplay for the immense Hunger. It is with this behind them that Druid bring to colourful jangling life Walsh’s take on the Homeric episode of Odysseus’ wife’s endurance of abandonment and constant pestering from would-be replacements.
There is very little to comment on here, except the writing, for every performance was perfection the design and direction is full of texture, depth and detail. This is theatre as one often forgets it can be. Substance and style.
Walsh has a vocabulary for torturous human interaction. Even in his domestic dramas he found fresh ways of putting characters in situations where they can tear chunks out of each other, in the most eloquent of unglamorous ways.
Here we have four men, the last of hundreds of competitors for the abandoned Penelope’s heart, bed and property. The come each day to mill about a drained swimming pool – presumably the nearest Penelope wants them getting to her modernist Riviera-chic villa – and attempt to woo her via the CCTV camera which she periodically appears high above them to watch. Grown old, fat, senile and complacent the men discuss the nature of their years-old contest under the imminent threat of an end-game. This will take the form of Odysseus’ return as forewarned in a dream they all have regarding the uber-masculine yet impractically impotent barbecue which mocks them in their tiled bear-pit,
There are some gorgeous one-liners interspersing the funny and genuinely fresh dialogue from the four men as they reveal themselves, their group dynamic and their differing levels of worthiness and desire for The Prize. This play is, in one manner, a study of masculine acceptance of the precedence of contest, where a vision of Hell would be to imagine that the Prize does not exist. And at the same time an abstract discussion on the same matter.
It allows for the philosophical questioning of that very competition, of love and friendship and so much more, in richly crafted poetic monologues. Whilst some of these are just a tad too long they are what deservedly earn Walsh that over-used moniker of Wordsmith. For in so few other examples of new writing do we get such imagery, such questioning of the accepted, such intelligent musing on the subtleties of human experience all encased in a considered eloquent form.
Whilst the scenario lacks the horror involved with the domestic settings of the previous Druid/Walsh triumphs there is plenty to leave the audience uncomfortable with the sincerity with which they lazily proclaim love or indeed brotherhood. Perhaps there is more here to speak to men, who might feel more discomfort in the slow realisation that your only friends are competitors who would turn on you if it were necessary to prove their worth and that your life’s pursuit becomes null on the natural conclusion of the game you’ve spent it playing.
In our real world, how would we let real love triumph? And would you take the necessary step?
Like Penelope, I’d happily wait a pretty long time for the return of this kind of theatre.

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