Theatre review: The Walls
The Walls by Giuliano Ferla are as literary as they are literal. His play is an excoriating investigation into how a language — overworked by an illusory sense of cerebral superiority — can erect walls within which one is trapped forever. It is an honest examination at a phase in one’s life when solipsism and over-dependence on a partner or spouse can so easily lead to paranoia and desolation.
Man (Nicholas Bendall) and Woman (Emily Goddard) are a happy couple; she is pregnant. They move into a “walled-up” community, idealistic in their belief that each has everything the other needs. Speaking in a massively-evolved language that denies common understanding, he imagines himself to be of the literati. As she idolises him and is happy to be subservient to his intellectual ability, he is chest-full of self-regard and basks in the delusional glory of her adulation.
When the baby arrives and the Woman’s focus is shifted markedly from him to their child, the Man becomes twisted in jealousy and insecurity. He chastises her for using baby language and denigrates her fantasy tales. Neighbours are avoided like a nest of vipers and their friendly gestures are rebuffed as treacherous.
By now, the Woman’s life has come to revolve only around the baby. Confronting unwelcome advances from neighbours on the one hand and languishing in mis-communication with his raison d’être on the other hand, the Man sinks into anguish and isolation. Wistfully, he reminisces happier times. Worse yet, as he reinforces the brick and mortar around his family, he realises that it is the prison of his own language from which he cannot escape.
Ferla sows his motifs throughout the play and skilfully plants parable upon parable — the “Planetoid” story about dependence and loneliness being the more memorable. While the stylised action looks at first to be about a couple, it soon becomes clear that Ferla’s satire centres more on the Man than on the Woman.
Bendall’s interpretation of the Man conveys a fitting sense of foreboding and Goddard’s portrayal of the Woman is surprisingly vivid and convincing. Their actorly assurance is beyond reproach and the virtuosity with which they manage a language so complex is deeply impressive.
Ferla directs this compelling piece with the same idiosyncratic boldness of style that he employs in his choice of language. His inventive set puts the confines of the studio to effective use. And Ed Gould’s original score supports the drama with flair and wit.
Finally, Ferla has certainly driven his message home; The (literary) Walls have proven too formidable for his lines to be fully appreciated and understood.