Penelope (5 stars)

This article is from 2010


Enda in the ascendant

If ever there was an unlikely group of candidates for moral reclamation, it’s Homer’s Suitors, those odious, power-hungry freeloaders who installed themselves at Odysseus’ palace after he was presumed dead, intending to marry his wife Penelope, and thus assume his kingdom. And yet, Enda Walsh has done just that: Burns, Quinn, Dunne and Fitz, living out Greek myth from the drained, dirty confines of a modern day swimming pool, get to be heroes, just for one day.

Walsh’s masterstroke is that he finds their contemporary parallels in the sort of buffoons who propel themselves through life, and the business world, on a Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest ethos, although only one of them, the monstrous, Brylcreemed Quinn, resplendent in pink Speedos and an Elvis-black dye job, is honest enough to admit that. Despite the trappings of ‘romance’ that surround them: the corny love songs on the stereo, the heart-shaped balloons, they haven’t stuck themselves here for love of the unknowable Penelope, but for power. The opening dialogue is thick with the sort of amicable mistrust you’d find among contestants in the dying days of a reality television show: as these alpha (and beta) males bleat at each other that ‘the game is still on’ they wouldn’t be out of place on The Apprentice, and Penelope judges their efforts by CCTV camera beamed straight into her living room. It’s only when faced with the very real prospect of their impending deaths by angry husband that they’re forced to scan their souls for any last, tiny, traces of humanity.

Walsh’s characters have always been prone to lyricism, but here, finding grace notes even in amongst the self-deluded rantings of repellent men, he seems to be ascending to a higher plane. This is complex, beautiful and somehow very Irish writing, reminiscent of Synge or O’Casey: Enda Walsh, welcome to the Pantheon.

Traverse Theatre, 228 1404, until 29 Aug (not 16, 23), times vary, £17–£19 (£12–£13).


  • 5 stars

I won't be beaten by what I've helped to make. I can't let love die. At the bottom of a drained swimming pool, four ridiculous men face their deaths, and fight for an unwinnable love. Enda Walsh and Druid (Fringe First winners, 'The Walworth Farce' and 'The New Electric Ballroom') reunite with this exhilarating…