OVER the years, Galway has become a hugely significant place in the working life of Enda Walsh. It is a city in which the celebrated dramatist has premiered many of his finest plays, among them The Walworth Farce and Penelope with Druid, and more recently Misterman and Ballyturk with Landmark Productions.
“I’ve always loved this town,” he says, having flown in from his home in London to attend Galway International Arts Festival.
“I adored living in Cork, and Cork gave me my voice — there’s no doubt about that. But Galway has become special in the later part of my working life. Last year was a really great time with Ballyturk, because people were baffled by the show and really shook by it. I’ve had that before, but to not to the same extent. People were stopping me in the street or in a bar, asking me ‘Enda, what are you at?’. So when I close my eyes and think of producing work, I think of this town and showing work here.”
While Walsh’s mesmerising Ballyturk was the big showpiece of last year’s festival, the event also played host to a new departure for Walsh — an art installation called Room 303.
The latter project, in which an audience of three people at a time could sit in a hotel room and listen to the ghostly audio monologue of its sole inhabitant, intrigued Walsh so much that he has returned to the Galway festival this year with a conceptual sequel, A Girl’s Bedroom.
“Room 303 felt really, really strong,” says Walsh. “I was looking at the audience during shows and it was a little like being in a womb or in someone’s head. So I approached [arts festival director] Paul Fahy and asked could I make another one.”
A Girls Bedroom by Enda Walsh @GalwayIntArts is a private, personal & moving installation that provides you with a very real & stark insight— Kate Costello (@KateCostello89) July 18, 2015
Running for 13 minutes, and featuring an audio monologue by Love/Hate actress Charlie Murphy, A Girl’s Bedroom similarly immerses the audience in someone else’s headspace.
“It’s a six-year-old girl’s bedroom and the design is completely realistic,” explains Walsh.
“You walk in and it’s a pink room and there are tonnes of toys and posters. Then this audio of a 24-year-old woman starts up. She tells the story of how when she was six she always felt a bit ignored by her parents, and so she just left the house and started walking. And she doesn’t stop walking until she’s 23. It’s about that thing of still carrying your six-year-old self around with you. It’s a quiet, really lonesome piece.”
Just been to see Enda Walsh's A Girl's Bedroom' @GalwayIntArts - a quietly moving piece. Well worth catching - takes about 15 mins— Evelyn O'Rourke (@evelyn_orourke) July 19, 2015
Intriguingly, Walsh is committed to doing more of these ‘room’ installations.
“I’ve decided to make a room basically every year until I die,” he says. “And eventually they’ll all sort of elliptically begin to talk to one another. There’s something about the idea. I suppose it’s the closest I might get to writing a novel. You have that very direct, delicate connection with an audience, but at the same time it’s so sparse, or the story feels so tiny, that hopefully there’s enough room left for the imagination of the person sitting in there.”
Walsh and his rooms go way back, of course. Since breaking through with the famous Cork production of Disco Pigs in 1996, Walsh has explored the confinement of characters within specific rooms in plays such as Bedbound, The Walworth Farce and last year’s Ballyturk.
And the rooms continue to proliferate. Next month Walsh premieres a new opera, The Last Hotel, in the Edinburgh International Festival. It’s reasonably familiar terrain for the Dublin writer, of course, who won a Tony in 2012 for penning the ‘book’ for hit musical Once.
Notably, the new show has been written with celebrated Irish composer Donncha Dennehy, who composed the score for Walsh’s Misterman when it premiered in Galway in 2011.
Walsh admits he is fascinated by the weird non-space of the hotel room.
“I think it’s the ghosts, really,” he says. “You know? This idea of lying on a bed and knowing that hundreds of people have lain there before you. And of course you are always just passing through the place, so there’s that sense of transient, disparate existence.
“Hotels are also places where when you go there you’re not you. Suddenly, you’re a different version of you and you begin to have this weird perspective on yourself. I do anyway. I really love staying in hotels. It shakes me up a little. I feel different.”
There is, of course, another Walsh project on the horizon — and quite an exciting one at that. In December, the Dubliner’s collaboration with David Bowie will premiere off-Broadway in the New York Theatre Workshop.
Titled Lazarus and starring Dexter actor Michael C Hall, the show centres on the character that Bowie played in Nicholas Roeg’s 1975 film The Man Who Fell To Earth — that of an alien who comes to earth in order to save his home planet, which has been stricken by war and environmental disaster.
The show features classic Bowie songs as well as new material written especially for the score.
Walsh signed up for the gig after producers arranged a meeting with Bowie. “He had read my plays and had seen some of it performed in St Ann’s Warehouse in New York,” he says.
“He was fantastic. I think he talked to me for an hour and a half or so about the work, just sort of interviewed me: ‘why did you do this and this and this, and what’s this recurring motif?’
He knew thematically where I was at and where the work was shifting toward. And, of course, he’s just a ferocious reader. It was as if this man knows every fucking word I’ve written.”
Notably, despite Bowie’s towering status within the pop culture firmament, Walsh remains cool and nonchalant as he discusses it all, describing the iconic star as a natural collaborator and an incredibly friendly man.
“The sweetest thing about it is that really, really quickly — like, within three minutes — you forget that he is who he is and then it’s just all about the work. But like, occasionally, you do go, ‘Oh fucking hell. That’s David Bowie. What’s all this about?’”