The New Electric Ballroom is a place of dreams – shattered adolescent dreams of love and hope – a place that sent two young girls ‘on the edge of what it is to be a woman’ running back to the womb-like safety of home to live a claustrophobic existence in a stagnant village of fish and gossip.
Carla (Val Lilley) and Breda (Rosaleen Linehan), now in their sixties, live out their days in a grotesque rendition of their bitter memories, at the neurotic requests of their younger sister, Ada (now 40 years old).
Ada, played in a sufficiently pale and tightly wound fashion by Catherine Walsh, is a product of her sisters’ fear and embarrassment. Like Carla, she has never been kissed. She is not one of ‘the free, the living, the unmarked’. Instead she remains prisoner to her sisters’ stories, which are repeated over and over with sinister inevitability.
Donned with eyeshadow, lipstick, clownish 1950s outfits and pink shoes, Carla and Breda take their positions and act out their past in time to the haunting melody of The New Electric Ballroom; Carla, with a childlike innocence bordering on senility, and Breda with a sexy swagger.
Light hearted banter from Carla and endless requests for a cup of tea and a slice of cake shine a light into the darkness but don’t detract from the madness.
Patsy the simple village fisherman (Mikel Murfi) brings some more light relief to the play with his fishwife chatter and plastic fish. Yet this is a troubled character too – Patsy uses words, like the sisters, to fill in the gaps between the loneliness, to reach out and make sense of the world.
Will Ada break out of the story that has been created for her by other people’s words or is she destined to become a protagonist in her sisters’ sad pantomime? Alternatively, why don’t they all just get over it and move on?
Edna Walsh is the writer of Disco Pigs (2001) starring Cillian Murphy. If you liked the film, you will probably enjoy the insanity that is The New Electric Ballroom.
Review by Joanne Muirhead
The New Electric Ballroom is at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre until August 24 – visit the website for full details.