Enda Walsh’s Arlington (A Love Story) review at Leisureland, Galway – ‘tremendous’

Charlie Murphy in Arlington (A Love Story) at Galway International Arts Festival. Photo: Patrick Redmond.

Enda Walsh’s new play, Arlington (A Love Story), premiering at the Galway International Arts Festival, is a tremendous exploration of the transcending of circumstance. Sealed inside a room, Isla has been waiting years for her number to be called so she can make her place out in the world. Her routine of rehearsing for life outside is ruptured when a curtain tumbles, giving her a glimpse of the city and her bleak fate within it.

Charlie Murphy’s Isla fills her time by documenting stories of the world in the pattern of Samuel Beckett’s Winnie. But her daily routine begins to flow differently when a new operator (Hugh O’Conor) urges her on from an observation room – rather sweetly, the polite dialogue between the two could be mistaken for first date chatter.

Walsh – he also directs – and the creative team combine stunning effects with playful physicality: think Christopher Nolan meets Charlie Chaplin. There are neat tricks in Jamie Vartan’s set, with the design team making Isla’s room come alive. Jack Phelan provides some of the most stirring video work that’s been seen on an Irish stage and Emma Martin’s choreography is visceral, with dancer Oona Doherty moving like someone trying desperately to shake off their captivity.

This is Walsh’s most overtly political play to date. There are shades of the recent refugee crisis in the sinister voice of Olwen Fouere and the mortifying conditions summed up in O’Conor’s struggle. But, hard as it is, this is not a world without compassion.

Beautifully stylised study of compassion and conditioning in the modern world