**** ‘enthralling blend of bizarre delights … manic, madcap production … a mesmerising performance from the ever-compelling Murphy … a remarkable piece of theatre.’
Two men who don’t know their own names, let alone each other’s, are trapped in a room swapping stories about a town outside the confines of their four walls.
They are interrupted by a quietly menacing figure who talks about the futility of existence and then says one of them must step outside to die.
Put that way, Enda Walsh’s new play is no barrel of laughs – like his fellow Irish playwright Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot, maybe, only without the joie de vivre.
But there’s a good deal more to this manic, madcap production, directed by Walsh himself and starring his long-time male muse Cillian Murphy alongside Mikel Murfi and Stephen Rea as the creepy visitor, than that bald précis would imply.
With bursts of ballroom dancing to Eighties music, a comedy breakfast routine reminiscent of Morecambe and Wise, and some physical clowning straight out of Charlie Chaplin, it’s an extraordinary mishmash that delights in its own bizarreness and abrupt changes of mood.
And that’s before you add the poetic descriptions of the town Ballyturk, like an Irish Under Milk Wood which in Murphy’s comic falsetto narration sounds like it’s being voiced by Mrs Doyle from Father Ted. In another eerie change of tone there’s also a sonorous roll call of innocents that suggests we’re in for some Columbine-style massacre.
What’s it all about? Walsh says the play was prompted by his six-year-old daughter asking why people aren’t bothered that we’re all doomed to die, and the piece seems to be driven by the kind of meaning-of-life inquiry that made existentialist philosophy the only thing that mattered to me as an angst-ridden teenager.
A meditation on futility must be careful not to end up seeming futile itself and this one doesn’t entirely avoid the trap. Although the two men are in various degrees of extremis, with Murphy’s character sweating, frothing in epileptic fits and banging his head on the wall until it bleeds, we know too little about them to feel much emotion.
Despite a final reveal in the shape of a surprise fourth character that suggests a new dimension again, this is a work that enthralls more than it moves.
But at 90 minutes straight through, with a mesmerising performance from the ever-compelling Murphy at its heart, it’s still a remarkable piece of theatre.
Written by Simon Edge in the Daily Express 17.09.14