Images of confinement recur in the work of Enda Walsh. In the past, he has examined everything from the fate of being penned into one’s own story (Bedbound, The Walworth Farce) to more profound metaphysical and spiritual predicaments still (Ballyturk, The Last Hotel).
In Arlington — A Love Story, we find ourselves in familiar Walsh territory.
Toying with the fairy-tale image of the beautiful princess locked away in the tower, it’s yet another story of confinement. Some of it — particularly its hyper-sensory use of light, sound, and dance — is wonderful, but the play’s sketchy narrative is needlessly esoteric and its characters too paper-thin.
In a dystopian, vaguely contemporary city, a young woman (Charlie Murphy) has been locked in a strange room that — with its ticket-dispenser and hard plastic seating — recalls one of those painfully blank waiting rooms familiar to us all.
Alone in this room, the girl is observed and engaged with by an enigmatic figure in an adjacent room, a station that is a hive of surveillance media.
Today, the person speaking to her is a ‘new guy’ (Hugh O’Conor). He’s nervous and more affable than his predecessor. As the audience tries to deduce what’s going on, a vague dream of fairy-tale rescue takes flight, even while the grimmer back-story of the girl’s imprisonment is revealed.
Walsh’s chief concern in Arlington seems to be to stage a critique of the detention and containment that passes for normality in the modern state. At its most horrific, this detention is the fate of the refugee, of course, but it’s also more broadly the fate of the modern ‘citizen’. In tackling this notion of a control society, he invokes everyone from Kafka to Orwell, but extracts little novelty from a well-worn scenario. Surprisingly, there is little of the verbal fireworks that we associate with Walsh, and while the play’s imagery is strong, the core narrative is too wispy and suggestive, lacking the vigour of Walsh’s previous work.
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