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  • Chris O'Rourke

Galway International Arts Festival 2023: Bedbound

Brenda Meaney and Colm Meaney in Enda Walsh's Bedbound. Image Marcin Lewandowski


Daddy and daughter have issues. Issues about silence and language. About walls, metaphorical and literal. About stories. Hard luck and hard work stories. Romantic and ruminating stories. Stories about what happened to Dan Dan, to Mam, to Dad’s ill advised expansion of Cork’s most successful furniture business into that hell hole of a city called Dublin? The story of how daughter contracted polio and everything it brought with it, including confining her to a bed. Where she and Dad live out their mock existence, trapped inside walls of their own making. In Enda Walsh’s critically acclaimed Bedbound from 2000, the limits of our thought might be the limits of our language, but if there’s something beyond it’s often hard to see what that might be. Either way, language as our means of connecting, and failing to connect, isn’t going down without a fight.

As stories go, Bedbound proves a modest tale. A legend in his own mind, Maxi has risen, by mostly foul means, to the top of a furniture empire. Worshipped by his customers, feared by his employees, this loudmouth in a dusty suit relentlessly opines his own praises like a dishevelled Cork God. Meanwhile, his bedridden daughter struggles to make sense of how she got to where she is. Wanting a prince to rescue her with a kiss. But her road to truth proves full of real listening, the type she craves release from. Until the walls come tumbling down and the freeing kiss turns out not to be the kiss she thought it would be.

Brenda Meaney and Colm Meaney in Enda Walsh's Bedbound. Image Marcin Lewandowski

While words come hard and fast in Walsh’s loaded script, they often weigh it down beneath their lofty ambitions. Words to articulate, to shape, to escape our realities. Daddy’s girl needing stories to keep her monsters at bay. And there’s no bigger monster to help her than Daddy. If Beckett is much in evidence, so too are Death of a Salesman with its Willy Loman styled braggart, the social climbing of Abigail’s Party, and the existential angst of No Exit. An exit being what both father and daughter are avidly seeking and avoiding. Switching between realist and absurdist frames results in both textual and theatrical tensions that remain unresolved. Jamie Vartan’s set evocative of an abstract liminal space and a serial killer's hideaway. Sinéad Diskin’s haunting score suffering the same ambiguity, as do Sinéad McKenna’s alternating lights.

Under Marc Atkinson Borrull’s direction the daddy daughter bond is never laboured, yet it’s there nonetheless. Laced throughout so the hurried end requires something of an accommodation more than a big ask. Which you allow given the calibre of performances. Granted, their real life relationship informs their chemistry, but the Meaney’s prove quite the revelation. Primarily Brenda Meaney who turns in a mesmerisingly detailed performance as the struggling, bed ridden daughter. If Colm Meaney’s public persona is often synonymous with Roddy Doyle’s Dessie Curley, well, there’s certainly traces of that in the braggart no one ever told to shut up. But Meaney’s energised, swaggeringly assured Maxi is richly informed with astute subtleties, ensuring Maxi is entire in his own right. Conjured via a masterclass performance.

Colm Meaney and Brenda Meaney in Enda Walsh's Bedbound. Image Marcin Lewandowski

Family, failure, nostalgia, the future, being trapped and needing to be for fear of facing the truth, Bedbound is swamped in so much existentialism it should come with a pack of Gauloises and a carafe of Bordeaux. For the most part, Marc Atkinson Borrull makes a tight fist of things unpacking much of the depth in the details. If there’s dated references in some of those details, Sacha Distel and Dirk Bogarde likely to leave some scratching their heads, Bedbound manages to rise above them courtesy of its two crowning performances. Do we crave freedom from our stories, or do we just want a different story? In Bedbound, the answer may surprise you. The performances are sure to impress.

Bedbound by Enda Walsh, produced by Landmark Productions and Galway International Arts Festival, runs at Galway International Arts Festival until July 29.

Bedbound transfers to 3Olympia Theatre, Dublin, August 8 - 12.

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