PERTH INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVALTHEATRE REVIEW: The New Electric Ballroom

Gillian Clark

Druid, one of the best known theatre companies in the English speaking world, comes to the Perth International arts Festival from Ireland with this exciting and palpable piece of theatre.
PERTH INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVALTHEATRE REVIEW: The New Electric Ballroom
Druid, one of the best known theatre companies in the English speaking world, comes to the Perth International arts Festival from Ireland with this exciting and palpable piece of theatre. Druid was founded in Galway in 1975 and was the first professional theatre company in Ireland to be based outside Dublin. Since then Druid has toured extensively in Ireland as well as internationally to such places as London, Edinburgh, Sydney, Perth, Washington, Los Angeles, New York and Tokyo. Internationally celebrated for his exhilarating wordplay and the visceral power of his stories, Enda Walsh, who is one of the most widely performed writers in Irish theatre today, delivers yet another powerful and compelling play. Walsh previous success Disco Pigs typifies a common theme in his work, namely characters striving to articulate or verbally communicate. Enda Walsh’s work is famous for its finely crafted and deeply layered theatrical worlds, all of which are cast in their own linguistic idioms. The New Electric Ballroom, Druid’s latest offering and Walsh’s as writer and director, was performed at the 2008 Edinburgh Festival Fringe where it won an Edinburgh Fringe First Award. Set in a remote Irish fishing village, three sisters are trapped in the years that have passed since their halcyon days in the 1950s at The New Electric Ballroom. Still obsessed by memories of something resembling romance, they constantly replay the events of one fateful evening. Equal parts absurd, funny and brutal, this dark, glitter-dusted fable of the emotionally stultifying effects of small-town life is delivered with a crackling energy. Presented at the Playhouse Theatre, the functional set depicts a cannery yet with the romantic, theatrical trimmings close at hand for the sisters to envelope themselves in when it is announced ‘it’s time’. The two eldest sisters recollect and recant led by the little sister who behaves like a traumatized orchestrator. With funny references to Mary Magdelene’s diet and the taut necessity for a cup of tea, the play rips along cascading through past and present complete with lipstick and slippers. The only door is functional yet symbolic in its use as the repressed fishmonger (the only man in the play) erupts onto the floor, complete with the most recent catch and the most unwieldly harbour stories. What eventuates via this entrance into the sisters’ ever-present past, is startling and speaks volumes of a true craftsman at work, as the fishmonger is honoured to stay in this desirable place. The soulful message of The Electric Ballroom is penetrating and was highly pleasing to this opening night audience. The performances are knife-sharp, while Walsh’s poetic script veers between hilarious ironic evocations of town life and a bitter erotic lyricism. In particular the stellar performance by Mikel Murfi is breathtaking, he captures the yearning of the fishmonger trying to connect. In a world where everyone is trying to traverse this gap, their disharmony is laid bare in The New Electric Ballroom a must see for the festival. It is making its Australian premiere in an exclusive season at the Perth International Arts Festival. Artistic director Shelagh Magadza said: “Enda Walsh’s latest work offers theatre-goers what so many crave – a compelling and beautifully written script from one of the leading playwrights of our time.” The New Electric Ballroom Where: Playhouse Theatre At: 3 Pier Street, Perth Start:17-Feb-2009 End:25-Feb-2009

About the author

Gill Clark is an arts hub reviewer based in Perth.