Dublin Deja Vu
Two men ramble around Dublin, bumping into a host of recognisable, if quirky, predominantly male characters, both on an epic journey informed by literary, religious, and cosmic references. Or how about two working class lads, for whom Dublin is a normalized cesspit of drug fuelled violence and vomit filled Fridays, travelling across the city, meeting a host of recognisable, if quirky, predominantly male characters. Sound familiar? If Keith-James Walker’s “Walkinstown,” his latest play that isn’t a play probably, has you feeling an overwhelming sense of deja vu, it’s because it’s all been done before. Yet if “Walkinstown” is indeed a case of been there, done that, rarely has it been done better when it comes to laughing out loud. Even so, if home town advantage saw sections of the opening night audience cracking up relentlessly at the least little thing, for everyone else “Walkinstown” was often harder work between the laughs than it needed to be. A parody not always that clever as a parody, “Walkinstown” flatters to deceive at times. Yet it also delivers some staggeringly good fun, courtesy of two staggeringly good performances, and some exceptionally good direction.
“Walkinstown’s” threadbare excuse for a narrative sees Mark and Darren, two strangers with an insane sense of direction, setting out to finally find love one night in a destitute Dublin. Yet, unbeknownst to the great intimidator, Mark, and the lovelorn Darren, each is attracted to the same object of desire: the barely sketched narrative device that is Joanna. Yet narrative isn’t really all that important, other than serving as a loose frame on which to sequentially hang whatever piece of comedic zaniness is coming next. Passing through a disastrously mapped Dublin, encountering mysterious mentors, former babysitters, Chip Shop owners, wannabe Chinese gangsters, and a Ross O’Carroll-Kelly styled airline pilot, it’s all crashing headlong towards the moment of truth, and a blockbuster finale of epic, action movie proportions.
In a tale which sees Howie The Rookie, Dublin Oldschool and Ulysses all being recycled, “Walkinstown” often shows some clever takes on these three Dublin classics. Indeed, with its Careless Whisper, George Michael, Italia ‘90 references, one senses it might well have been called Dublin Oldschool had the name not already been taken. As to why it’s called “Walkinstown” we may never know. Dublin city plays the leading role, with Walkinstown barely featuring as anything more substantial than a half remembered after thought. Lyrically, Walker proves he’s no lightweight when it comes to rhymes, alliteration, rhythm, or images, crafting a poetically impressive script which sublimely parodies the poetic form. Yet if his writing is taut and clever in places, ultimately “Walkinstown” trades parodic depth for directly daft. In the end “Walkinstown” feels like a simple spirit and mixer being passed off as a lusciously rich cocktail. Yet even if it’s not quite as tasty as it likes to think it is, it's still 40% proof and packs quite the kick at times. Such as Mark's humiliating rejection in Copperface Jacks, one of several, jaw achingly funny moments.
Director Rex Ryan does an impressive job teasing out every ounce of humour, every physical nuance, and every rhythmic shift or sway in Walker's clever script. Throughout, Ryan beautifully articulates both large and subtle performative moments with an exquisite sense of pace and timing. The result is two physically rich and extraordinarily versatile performances. Keith-James Walker as the endlessly shaping Mark, and Kieran Roche as the Luas loving Darren, both deliver comedy gold at times, and elevate what is a clever, but often limited parody into an extraordinarily enjoyable experience. Eoin Lennon’s split second lighting design is beautifully executed throughout.
Clever, funny, “Walkinstown” is never consistently as clever, nor as funny, as its best moments would have us wish it to be. If not quite the send up it might have been, “Walkinstown” still manages to send up the rhyming, Dublin monologue genre whilst simultaneously paying it homage. Brilliantly and cleverly observed in places, “Walkinstown” delivers some insanely, hilarious moments. Moments when Roche and Walker will have you howling with laughter and begging for more.
“Walkinstown” by Keith-James Walker, produced by Monkey Backstage, runs at Smock Alley Theatre until February 3rd
For more information, visit Smock Alley Theatre