PENELOPE To 5 March.

London.

PENELOPE
by Enda Walsh.

Hampstead Theatre Eton Avenue Swiss Cottage NW3 3EU To 5 March 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed 2.30pm & Sat 3pm.
Audio-described 26 Feb 3pm (+ Touch Tour).
Captioned/Post-show Discussion with speech-to-text) 1 March.
Runs 1hr 30min No interval.

TICKETS: 020 7722 9301.
www.hampsteadtheatre.com
Review: Timothy Ramsden 16 February.

A long elaboration on an old theme.
In Homer, decades matter. The Iliad shows the Greeks taking ten years to capture Troy, the Odyssey how Greek hero Ulysses took another ten to return home. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, his wife Penelope was being besieged by unsuitable suitors, taking chances while the hero was away.

Enda Walsh moves the final remnants of those suitors into an empty swimming-pool, their mission to marry ending in a comradeship-of-convenience during a day’s stale routine. Even the barbecue fails to light.

A playwright of verbal extravagance in near-static, surreal-tinged situations, Walsh is a fitting writer for this modernised, yet unlocated, variation on a classical theme. Nowhere’s more static than the opening. There’s blood on the wall; one man, Burns, stares at it, while Quinn, wearing only red underpants, stands proud of his physique but preoccupied with his phallic failure to heat a sausage.

Joined by the older, self-consciously stylish Dunne and contemplative, book-reading Fitz, they are periodically viewed from above through a TV screen by the younger Penelope, languishingly elegant and cased-off in a glass corridor, as they perform for her approval.

Despite a floorshow of verbal pyrotechnics and Quinn’s cabaret of lovers through the ages, including Napoleon and Josephine, Rhett and Scarlett, Penelope’s eventual emergence into their presence, if not their company – she stays above the pool – comes as they slowly move from masculine assertion to Fitz’s moving meditation on love and Burns’ final acknowledgment of a world outside themselves – a realisation making his opening absorption with blood comprehensible.

It’s smartly done. Yet amid the verbal elaboration, the sudden moments of action supercharged with blasts of popular tunes add to a self-consciousness that keeps the characters tied to their playwright. And it’s a lengthy way to make the essential point that male pride and aggression don’t automatically impress.

Mikel Murfi’s cast are exemplary, from Aaron Monaghan as young Woody Allen lookalike Burns (with an un-Allenish intensity) through Karl Shiels’s physically strong, slower-witted Quinn and Denis Conway’s elegantly hopeful Dunne to Fitz, whom Niall Buggy invests with the sense of a mind constantly reflecting, and Olga Wehrly’s Penelope, enigmatical and remote.

Fitz: Niall Buggy.
Dunne: Denis Conway.
Burns: Aaron Monaghan.
Quinn: Karl Shiels.
Penelope: Olga Wehrly.

Director: Mikel Murfi.
Designer: Sabine Dargent.
Lighting: Paul Keogan.
Sound: Gregory Clarke.

2011-02-18 14:52:09

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