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More than a Song

Herald theatre critic Neil Cooper explains why writer Enda Walsh’s foray into music isn’t such a surprise.

There has always been a musical pulse to Enda Walsh's writing, ever since the Dublin-born playwright burst onto the international stage in 1996 with Disco Pigs, his ferocious teenage love story that turned a nineteen-year Cillian Murphy into a star. The rhythmic rush of adolescent slang that fired Walsh's career-making play has led to a prolific canon both on stage and screen.

Walsh's script written with Steve McQueen for McQueen's Michael Fassbender-starring film, Hunger, was praised, while a move into musical theatre with Once saw the Broadway production of a show featuring music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova scoop eight Tony Awards, a Grammy and two Olivier Awards.

Furthering his relationship with music, Walsh is currently under commission to write Jules in the City, a film based on the life and times of singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright, a man himself no stranger to combining music and theatre. Then there is a mooted collaboration between Walsh and David Bowie, no less, which will see the pair work together on Lazarus, a new musical play set to be premiered in New York later this year.

With such a lively music-based back catalogue, Walsh's first foray into opera with The Last Hotel is a seamlessly natural move for this most restlessly experimental of writers. Set in a hotel full of fly-by-night comings and goings and potentially dangerous liaisons, The Last Hotel looks at matters of life and an inevitable death with a prevailing sense of unease that often lurks behind the nervous energy of Walsh's work.

The Last Hotel also sees Walsh reunited with Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy, who he first worked with on his solo play, Misterman, again performed by Murphy. Dennehy is co-founder of the twelve-strong contemporary music based Crash Ensemble, who perform Walsh and Dennehy's savagely dark chamber noir in a  presentation by Landmark Productions, the Irish theatre company behind Once, and Wide Open Opera.

The fact that all The Last Hotel's creatives are countrymen of Walsh's makes for a shared sensibility that should pay dividends in this new piece. Walsh's track record of exploring the often absurd extremes of the Irish psyche, after all, looks to the gallows humour of his literary forbears such as Beckett and Joyce whilst retaining a thoroughly twenty-first century sense of the ridiculous. This should see this new creation going for a lot more than a song.

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