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“BEAUTIFUL, HILARIOUS, dark as death.” So tweeted actress Olwen Fouéré after seeing the opening of Enda Walsh’s new play Ballyturk, which got the Galway International Arts Festival off to a flying start at the Black Box yesterday evening.

Fouéré aptly summed up this stunning offering from Landmark Productions and the GIAF. The play centres on two nameless housemates played by Mikel Murfi and Cillian Murphy and we watch their frenetic daily routines which encompass everything from uproariously funny knockabout dancing to 1980s pop songs to their energetic evocations and impressions of the many inhabitants of the village of Ballyturk.

Murfi’s genius for physical comedy and expressiveness is given full rein under Enda Walsh’s skilful direction and Cillian Murphy is equally brilliant as he runs the gamut from manic non-stop activity to moments of pained bewilderment.

Ballyturk at times recalls Walsh’s The Walworth Farce which also featured characters shut off from the outside world and who devise stories to make sense of their existence. Every now and again Murphy’s character grasps for some meaning outside of the tales of Ballyturk – a place which might only exist in his and Murfi’s imagination – and his quest for knowledge and identity is very affecting. What is also affecting is the very real and deep affection which exists between these two men.

Then Stephen Rea arrives on the scene – laconic, enigmatic, droll and sinister – his appearance has a momentous bearing on Murphy and Murfi’s existence. The scene where a microphone drops from the ceiling and Rea suavely takes it and croons a love song is worth the price of admission on its own.

Walsh packs a heck of a lot into Ballyturk – madcap comedy alongside meditations on identity; imagination; love; life and death – and he and his three superb actors carry it off with immense flair. Praise is also due to the contributions of designer Jamie Vartan, lighting designer Adam Silverman, sound designer Helen Atkinson, and composer Teho Teardo. Bravos and bouquets to one and all.

Written by Charlie McBride in the Galway Advertiser 15.07.14