Who knew the story of a small-town Irish furniture salesman and his daughter could be so disturbing – and so horribly, beautifully poetic? But in Enda Walsh’s one-act play Bedbound, revived by Little Everywhere and director Kate Budgen, ugly and beautiful, speech and silence, dissolve into new meanings.
Critics called the play a "tour de force" when it was first staged at the Royal Court in 2001 and it seems only to grow in stature in the smaller space of the Lion and Unicorn. The audience sit on the floor, our backs against the walls, as the eponymous bed stands inoffensively in the middle of the room, its cheap pine whorls giving little clue of what’s to come.
Daughter (Susan Stanley) sits up, her body strangely contorted, her face pained. Half-child, half-adult, her age is impossible to guess. And then the words begin to pour out. Something is badly wrong in this place. “All that’s left is to start over,” she says, just as Dad (J D Kelleher) awakes, wired as the springs of a mattress, and jumps out of the bed in a crinkled suit to resume with his “big talk”.
How he made it all the way from stock-boy to shop manager. How he charmed customers and bullied staff. How Ireland has gone to shit and nobody has any work ethic. “I love the fucking work, me.” How he came to be here, in this tiny bricked-in bed with a daughter full of her own talk of a dead mother and the romantic novels she used to read at bedtime.
In his portrayal of a domestic psychopath, Kelleher is unrelenting, but funny and charming as psychopaths so often are. Enda Walsh builds up his language like a latterday Joyce and Beckett in one,“tighter, tighter” to the point of implosion, only for Daughter to take over and release the pressure gauge once more.
He likely did not intend his play to be topical but recent news stories involving destructive father/daughter relationships add to its power. What’s more, Walsh is brave enough to give his audience a glimpse of redemption at the end of the hour, a moment of respite that Stanley and Kelleher, both acting out of their skin, also richly deserve.