Skip to main content

Enda Walsh - The Last Hotel

Enda Walsh has been spending a lot of time in hotel rooms recently. In New York, the Dublin-born playwright has been working with David Bowie on Lazarus, a new musical inspired by the alien character played by Bowie in Nicolas Roeg's 1976 big-screen adaptation of Walter Tevis' novel, The Man Who Fell To Earth. In Galway, Walsh has just premiered A Girl's Bedroom, a twelve minute monologue presented at Galway International Arts Festival as an installation to audiences of five at a time. And somewhere between Dublin, London and Edinburgh, Walsh is preparing for The Last Hotel, a brand new opera co-written with composer Donnacha Dennehy, who Walsh first worked with on a 2012 Galway revival of his 1999 play, Misterman.

“I thought it would be good to try something that wasn't so narrative-driven,” Walsh says of The Last Hotel's creative roots. “I was really enjoying doing Misterman, and felt my work was changing, so when Donnacha turned round and said he had this idea for an opera and asked what did I think, he knows the type of stuff I'm into, so it seemed like a good match.”

The result of this is a darkly brooding meditation in which a couple meet a woman in a hotel room with matters of life and death on their minds.

“It initially feels like it might be a threesome,” says Walsh. “There's a frisson there where you're not quite sure what's going on, but there's a man at the bar collecting his thoughts, it incrementally creeps up on you what it's all about. It all came from reading various stories about assisted suicide, from people wanting to commit suicide to people helping them, so we've got these three people in a hotel room, who'd all been children, and now they're doing this, in this sad, bizarre, terrifying scene. This thing is so suburban, but the act is shattering for them.

“Often in opera the story happens at a snail's pace, but with Donnacha's music the premise here is incredibly strong. You feel as if the characters are trying to find a means of expression, and what they say is ripping the soul out of them. It's not just them having a conversation. It's about them wanting to say something important. It's proclaiming. A lot of plays set in real time in the way that The Last Hotel is feel really charged, so you know this is a really big day for them, and that they have to get this stuff out.”

Such urgency has defined Walsh's work, ever since he burst out of a lively theatre scene in Cork in 1996 with Disco Pigs, a ferocious two-hander that featured a nineteen year old Cillian Murphy in his first professional acting job alongside Eileen Walsh. Disco Pigs' sixty-five minute explosion of adolescent romance took Dublin, Galway and Edinburgh by storm, transferred to the West End and was made into a film.

Since then, Murphy's work has been a regular in the Traverse Theatre's Edinburgh Festival Fringe programmes, with Bedbound in 2000, The Herald Archangel winning The New Electric Ballroom in 2005, The Walworth Farce in 2006 and Penelope in 2010 all defining Walsh's dark sense of the absurd and quasi-Lynchian sensibility.

Such a sensibility could be seen and heard in A Girl's Bedroom, a twelve-minute monologue narrated by the disembodied voice of a twenty-three year old woman who left her bedroom aged six and never stops walking. Taking place in a meticulously pink recreation of the room, A Girl's Bedroom is the second room-based miniature Walsh has written for Galway International Arts Festival, and follows on from Room 303, which was seen at GIAF in 2014 alongside the full-length Ballyturk.

“It's a really simple idea,” Walsh says, “just do something I a big white box that you walk into. I want to write one every year, and then eventually do them all together, so you walk into a theatre full of these boxes. I don't know how yet, but I want them to all connect in some way.”

Of Lazarus, which will be directed by Ivo van Hove, also at Edinburgh International Festival this year with his production of Antigone, Walsh describes his collaboration with Bowie as “incredibly easy. He's seen a couple of plays of mine, and he talked to me about them and we got on. It's not in any way an adaptation of The Man Who Fell To Earth. It's more based on the character of Thomas Newton, who Bowie played in the film.”

The Last Hotel's score will be performed by the tellingly named Crash Ensemble, the twelve-strong contemporary music group co-founded by Dennehy, while the show itself will be co-produced by two Dublin-based companies, Wide Open Opera and Landmark Productions. Landmark were also responsible for Once, Walsh's move into musical theatre which saw his collaboration with composer and lyricist Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova in former National Theatre of Scotland director John Tiffany's production scoop eight Tony Awards, a Grammy and two Olivier Awards.

For The Last Hotel, Walsh wrote the libretto first, reading it out loud to Dennehy, who recorded it before writing the score.

“Donnacha's music is incredibly accessible,” Walsh enthuses. “Some operas can lock you out, but what Donnacha's done, even though it's incessant, is constantly moving, and has this real incredible beauty to it.

While both Once and The Last Hotel use music explicitly, a musical pulse has been vital to Walsh's work ever since the relentless rhythms of Disco Pigs kick-started his career. With Lazarus opening in New York in the autumn, Walsh's musical associations have seen him commissioned to write Jules in the City, a film based on the life and times of singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright.

“There's always been a huge musical influence on what I do,” says Walsh. “The thing that kept Corcadorca together was just going to nightclubs. We lived like owls.”

Things have changed in Walsh's writing, as he himself observes.

“I think I've moved away from being interested solely in character to things being more about form,” he says, “so things become more visual. One of the strengths of Ballyturk, and one of the things that infuriated some people, is that I think I've learnt that the well-made play isn't always a good thing, but if you're going to do something different from that, you have to try and find something beyond that for an audience to find it accessible, and for there to be enough space for them to dream with it.

“I look back at Disco Pigs and that was just a splurge. I couldn't write something like that now. I don't have the energy for one thing, but these days I want a mystery. Unless there's some kind of mystery onstage I'm not interested.”

The Last Hotel, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Aug 7-8, 10, 11, 12, 8pm.
www.eif.co.uk/lasthotel

The Herald, August 10th 2015

ends

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Big Gold Dreams – A Story of Scottish Independent Music 1977-1989

Disc 1 1. THE REZILLOS (My Baby Does) Good Sculptures (12/77)  2. THE EXILE Hooked On You (8/77) 3. DRIVE Jerkin’ (8/77) 4. VALVES Robot Love (9/77) 5. P.V.C. 2 Put You In The Picture (10/77) 6. JOHNNY & THE SELF ABUSERS Dead Vandals (11/77) 7. BEE BEE CEE You Gotta Know Girl (11/77) 8. SUBS Gimme Your Heart (2/78) 9. SKIDS Reasons (No Bad NB 1, 4/78) 10. FINGERPRINTZ Dancing With Myself (1/79)  11. THE ZIPS Take Me Down (4/79) 12. ANOTHER PRETTY FACE All The Boys Love Carrie (5/79)  13. VISITORS Electric Heat (5/79) 14. JOLT See Saw (6/79) 15. SIMPLE MINDS Chelsea Girl (6/79) 16. SHAKE Culture Shock (7/79) 17. HEADBOYS The Shape Of Things To Come (7/79) 18. FIRE EXIT Time Wall (8/79) 19. FREEZE Paranoia (9/79) 20. FAKES Sylvia Clarke (9/79) 21. TPI She’s Too Clever For Me (10/79) 22. FUN 4 Singing In The Showers (11/79) 23. FLOWERS Confessions (12/79) 24. TV21 Playing With Fire (4/80) 25. ALEX FERGUSSON Stay With Me Tonight (1980) 1. THE REZILL

Losing Touch With My Mind - Psychedelia in Britain 1986-1990

DISC 1 1. THE STONE ROSES   -  Don’t Stop 2. SPACEMEN 3   -  Losing Touch With My Mind (Demo) 3. THE MODERN ART   -  Mind Train 4. 14 ICED BEARS   -  Mother Sleep 5. RED CHAIR FADEAWAY  -  Myra 6. BIFF BANG POW!   -  Five Minutes In The Life Of Greenwood Goulding 7. THE STAIRS  -  I Remember A Day 8. THE PRISONERS  -  In From The Cold 9. THE TELESCOPES   -  Everso 10. THE SEERS   -  Psych Out 11. MAGIC MUSHROOM BAND  -  You Can Be My L-S-D 12. THE HONEY SMUGGLERS  - Smokey Ice-Cream 13. THE MOONFLOWERS  -  We Dig Your Earth 14. THE SUGAR BATTLE   -  Colliding Minds 15. GOL GAPPAS   -  Albert Parker 16. PAUL ROLAND  -  In The Opium Den 17. THE THANES  -  Days Go Slowly By 18. THEE HYPNOTICS   -  Justice In Freedom (12" Version) 1. THE STONE ROSES    Don’t Stop ( Silvertone   ORE   1989) The trip didn’t quite start here for what sounds like Waterfall played backwards on The Stone Roses’ era-defining eponymous debut album, but it sounds

Carla Lane – The Liver Birds, Mersey Beat and Counter Cultural Performance Poetry

Last week's sad passing of TV sit-com writer Carla Lane aged 87 marks another nail in the coffin of what many regard as a golden era of TV comedy. It was an era rooted in overly-bright living room sets where everyday plays for today were acted out in front of a live audience in a way that happens differently today. If Lane had been starting out now, chances are that the middlebrow melancholy of Butterflies, in which over four series between 1978 and 1983, Wendy Craig's suburban housewife Ria flirted with the idea of committing adultery with successful businessman Leonard, would have been filmed without a laughter track and billed as a dramady. Lane's finest half-hour highlighted a confused, quietly desperate and utterly British response to the new freedoms afforded women over the previous decade as they trickled down the class system in the most genteel of ways. This may have been drawn from Lane's own not-quite free-spirited quest for adventure as she moved through h