What do you get when you cross a highly accomplished, three piece cast (including the likes of talented, striking, blue-eyed-boy Cillian Murphy) with inquisitive writing and direction from Irish play write Enda Walsh at The National Theatre? A bloomin’ good play, that’s what.
Alright, so perhaps my own joke was not, in fact, a joke as the traditional format may have first implied. The lack of a punch line dooms it somewhat. There was, however, an abundance of joking around to be enjoyed on stage. Set for the most part within the slightly topsy turvy four (three) walls of a windowless and doorless bedsit, Cillian Murphy and Mikel Murfi play two grown men who live a curiously surreal, backwards existence. Their lives are lead in another time zone entirely and the familiar ritual of getting up after sleep which, for them, is momentary, is wonderfully farcical. The fastest and most efficient way of getting ready having become a perfected routine… puffs of talcum powder flying into a great smog, cereal eaten with a speed to risk indigestion, all accompanied by loud, up beat music. These nameless men are not normal. The play is blackly comical and the men entertain themselves within the room (which is the only space they know) by imagining a place outside of the walls… Ballyturk. The men bounce around energetically, putting on voices of the various imagined and disliked townsfolk, switching instantly from a haggard woman to a slobbish man. This is their existence, their survival. It was almost tiring to watch Cillian Murphy bound from one side of the room to the next and then leap with incredible ease to sit atop the wardrobe and deliver the speech of a shower-capped Ballyturk woman.
Then comes Stephen Rea, a chain smoker, with dry humour and a God like power over the two men who, particularly at this latter stage in the play, demonstrate a vulnerability and naivety akin to two scared little boys, cowering in his alien presence. Rea offers just one of the men the opportunity to step outside the room which appears now to be like a social experiment facility, and see what their ‘Ballyturk’ is really like. This discovery, however, would lead also to their death.
In a play that is so wholly immersive in its own, unique world, it is not necessarily easy to come away from it knowing what it really was that you witnessed. But what was clear was that you did not have to understand the play in order to enjoy it. And I did enjoy it, immensely. I felt a great sense of empathy towards the two socially inept men, played flawlessly by Murphy and Murfi. They both manage to capture the awkwardness, physically and emotionally. It is not clear whether these men are mentally challenged due to the situation they have been placed in, or whether they were placed in the situation because they were mentally challenged. Perhaps it is not important. It was, nonetheless, heartbreaking and uncomfortable to watch Murphy’s character suffer fits, which were scarily and convincingly executed, or see them support each other with a brotherly camaraderie as they weaken.
The performances were impressive, and it was a pleasure to see Cillian Murphy prove he’s worth his salt and more with such a physically demanding role. I may not have wholly understood it, but I did wholly enjoy it.
Image courtesy of http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/. The show runs until the 11th of October.