Small talk is a much maligned and under-rated past time – particularly as depicted in Enda Walsh’s new play The Small Things at the Menier Chocolate Factory.
The piece is part of the This Other England season in collaboration with Paines Plough, the theme for which is works ‘inspired by the English language’. This seemed to me a rather banal and pointless way of tying together the season – but Walsh’s play justifies the title entirely.
In it we meet an old man and woman sitting on chairs on a long thin rectangular stage. Both hold clocks and take turns to recount what at first seem to be sentimental and sepia memories of their childhood. But as their truncated and highly amusing monologues develop we learn the strange events that occurred in the town of their youth.
The woman’s father was obsessed with order. So much so that speech itself – unless functional – became a reflection of the chaos of life. So, with the help of other like-minded town inhabitants he took steps to cut out this superfluous representative of disorder.
Walsh’s tale is gripping, dark, poetic and at times amusing. At the risk of sounding crass it does have something Beckettian about it, calling to mind Krapp’s Last Tape. Indeed the characters need speech as proof of life and are compelled to fill the void in a typically existential way (the woman even describes silence as torture).
Vicky Featherstone’s production is charming and extremely well cast with Bernard Gallagher and Valerie Lilley making total sense of the poetic language. They also give wonderful glimpses of the children they were despite now being old and creaky.
All of Neil Warmington’s set is slightly suspended and never touches the ground, this is baffling but also rather charming and adds to the dream-like quality of the proceedings.
Walsh aficionados may find this tame next to Disco Pigs and Bed Bound, but it marks a growth and maturity to his writing and has whet my appetite for the three further offerings in the This Other England Season.