Endearing Entertainment with Mary Walsh

Many will know Walsh from her various television shows, perhaps most notably This Hour Has 22 Minutes. However, in the performance she has staged at The Firehall Arts Centre last week, we are able to see her at her most earnest. Where the performance’s title suggests to someone less familiar with Walsh an epic monologue of man-hating feminism and dogmatic political stances, what was actually showcased was the semi-autobiographical, heart-felt nostalgic reflection of a truly unique and colourful personality.

Not to suggest that Walsh has strayed too far from her much-loved satirical, observational comedy. Corrupt politicians, gender stereotypes and the challenges of ageing are faced with a vengeance. With the most minimal of props, Walsh uses film clips, costume changes and impressive acting to deliver the story of Marg Delahunty. Having been told she is about the go blind, Marg sets out on a quest to find her adopted daughter who she was forced to give away as a teenager. While not the most original of plots, it neatly weaves together some hilarious and heart-warming scene where the protagonist begins to reassess her life.

The success to the play is largely centred on the charisma and energy that Walsh dispenses with ease. From the minute the play is introduced and the lights go out, she appears at the back of the theatre, transformed into an older lady complaining about modern-day life. She asks the question, why is technology getting smarter when people are getting stupider? She has not even descended down what she refers to as the Machu Picchu of stairs before the audience is utterly charmed and barely able to grasp air amongst the cackles of laughter.

It takes a lot for one woman to maintain an audience’s attention for an entire performance, but Walsh’s trick is that she more than one woman. Every five minutes she has transformed her voice, appearance and gestures to imitate a new character with such skill that it is easy to forget that it is the same actress. She also throws in some additional sketches for a little more punch. Perhaps my personal highlight was the music video ‘All the Older Ladies’ where bingo-playing grandmas protest in unison about nursing homes and neglect to a catchy melody. She also infuses incredibly sentimental moments, such as the saddening storybook narration of a young girl who grew up isolated from her family – a story that was heavily inspired by Walsh’s own childhood.

While Dancing with Rage seemed to appeal to an older demographic, its sentiments and humour can be appreciated by most. It is witty, honest and carefully considered. More than this, the ability of Walsh to loose herself in so many identities is something remarkable that can only be fully realized when seeing it in the flesh.