Ballyturk to play at The Abbey Theatre, Dublin

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Landmark Productions and Galway International Arts Festival are delighted to announce that Ballyturk, written and directed by Enda Walsh, will play at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, as part of the inaugural season by the new Directors of the Abbey, Graham McLaren and Neil Murray.  

This new production of Ballyturk is a Landmark Productions and Galway International Arts Festival co-production in association with the Abbey Theatre, and stars Olwen Fouéré, Mikel Murfi and Tadhg Murphy.

Ballyturk premiered at GIAF to huge acclaim in 2014 and became the fastest selling show in the Festival’s history. Ballyturk made its UK premiere at the National Theatre of Great Britain in London where it was included in The Guardian’s Top 10 Theatre Shows of the Year. The show received multiple award nominations, and was awarded both Best Sound Design and Best Production at the Irish Times Theatre Awards in 2015.

Ballyturk runs from 3-11 March 2017. Public booking opens at www.abbeytheatre.ie at 12pm on Friday 2nd Dec, priority booking open now using the code ABBEY2017.

Review – New York Times

Some playwrights’ work is so tantalizingly open-ended as to resist either a single, or simple, assessment or point of view. Beckett of course comes to mind. So now does another Irish dramatist, Enda Walsh, whose “Ballyturk,” at the National Theater through Oct. 11 following its world premiere in Galway in July, is likely to invite as many interpretations as there are people who’ve seen it. Opinions may vary sharply as regards even the basics of what takes place, but one thing’s for sure: you won’t quickly forget the experience.

The curtain rises on two men, known solely as 1 (Cillian Murphy) and 2 (Mikel Murfi), who jointly inhabit a high-walled room complete with multiple cupboards, a cuckoo clock, but not a single window — no chance, therefore, of escape. Bound together like some modern-day version of Beckett’s tramps from “Waiting For Godot,” the duo at various points strip down to their underwear, dance and wreak verbal and visual havoc.

Midway through the 90 minutes, the back wall falls away and we are introduced to a somber-suited character called — what else? — 3 (an elegantly laconic Stephen Rea). Some sort of arbiter of doom, this person smokes (“terrible habit,” he remarks), croons the Frank Sinatra standard “Time After Time,” and proffers a deal whereby either 1 or 2 might join him in whatever world lies beyond the hermetically sealed space that 1 and 2 call home. Is 3’s offer an actual release or, rather, a summons unto the grave? Mr. Walsh isn’t saying, having told an interviewer prior to the London opening that “we won’t even begin to make sense — we’re going to leave you to unlock it.”

That this theatrical cryptogram is engaging rather than exasperating owes much to Mr. Walsh’s high-octane production. (The Tony-winning author of the stage adaptation of the film musical “Once” here doubles as his own director.) The two defining performances of Mr. Murphy and Mr. Murfi all but reduce the sound-alike duo to a sweaty wreck by the end, and the men’s teamwork recalls the kind of acting as theatrical combat associated with the heyday of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater, a company for whom physicality has always been key. That’s not to minimize writing that mixes deliberate gabble with allusions aplenty — the late-arriving young boy from “Godot” finds a direct equivalent here. But Mr. Walsh acknowledges Beckett only to put him to the side; after all, no one dramatist owns the patent when it comes to meditations on mortality.

The title, incidentally, refers to the fictional village whose citizenry 1 and 2 channel during their banter (we also hear, via tape, the voices of various townspeople), and Irish theater buffs will note the affinity between Ballyturk and the dramatist Brian Friel’s much-loved and comparably invented town of Ballybeg. Mr. Walsh’s words in this case are there to feed the adrenalin rush of the event as a whole: you don’t so much see “Ballyturk” as you do surrender to it.

Written by Matt Wolf for the International New York Times on 25.09.14

How We Met: Enda Walsh & Cillian Murphy – The Independent

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Cillian Murphy, 38

Following his stage debut in Enda Walsh’s play ‘Disco Pigs’, about the dysfunctional relationship between two Cork teenagers, in 1996, Murphy (right in picture) found fame with the post-apocalyptic zombie film ’28 Days Later’ in 2002. He has since appeared in more than 30 films, including ‘Batman Begins’ and ‘Inception’. He lives in north London with his wife and two children

I was 18, had just left school, and had a vague notion that I wanted to be an actor. Enda was working with [Cork theatre group] Corcadorca at the time. I adored its shows – Clockwork Orange blew my top off. So I started hanging around them and blagged an audition.

Enda was unbelievably warm to me as a young nobody. He told me about this play Disco Pigs that he’d written and he asked me to come and read some lines. We met up in a café in Cork city. He has a Peter Pan-ish quality and back then, this magnificent hair; he looked like a TV presenter. I didn’t understand what Disco Pigs was about, and I had no experience of acting whatsoever but I could sense that it was good – and that we shared the same sense of humour.

We toured that play for 18 months; a small group of us travelling around, messing about and having fun. Me and Enda had one game where we would speak in funny voices, taking the consonants out of every word, and it felt like our exclusive little club; I never noticed the age gap. By the end, we’d become friends for life. That period changed my life more than any other, and it’s influenced all my choices since; Enda put me on the path to acting and gifted me with an early career.

He’s into human behaviour – the struggle of waking up in the morning, putting one foot in front of another and getting through the day – and his stories are all a way of examining the human condition. Enda is a sucker for a stupid gag and so am I; we both like slapstick. But I’m not known for my comedy in films, I don’t get sent those scripts, and Enda knows it. So I get that freeing feeling when we work together.

When I saw his script for Misterman in 2011, I’d not done theatre for six years. But I thought, “That’s it!” I’ll always remember the first preview in Galway. I’d finished this crazy, two-and-a-half hour piece, standing on stage with a set of angel wings on my arms, and there was silence from the audience, for 45 seconds. I thought, “Well that was a waste of five weeks.” Then the first person to clap was Enda and the room erupted into applause.

Though we’re very alike, he’s better at being on his own, I think, a skill that I’ve never acquired; my energy is high, and I need family, friends and colleagues around me. He knows how to be quiet and have Enda time, which is something I should learn, too.

 

Enda Walsh, 46

After writing for the Dublin Youth Theatre, Walsh made his breakthrough with his third play, ‘Disco Pigs’. The award-winning playwright and theatre director has since written 17 stage plays and several screenplays, including Steve McQueen’s acclaimed film ‘Hunger’. He lives in north London with his wife and daughter

People talk a lot about Cillian’s extraordinary eyes, but to be honest I didn’t notice when we first met – for me, it was his sheer physicality; he had a presence, an extraordinary energy.

That first meeting was in 1996. There was an exciting energy about Cork and everyone was trying stuff out – though I was about to fold my [theatre] company as I didn’t know what I was doing. Although I did have this script that I’d written [for Disco Pigs], and I knew that we wanted to get two young actors to play the two main characters.

I thought the play might be shite, but I auditioned Cillian, we read a couple of scenes, and I thought, “Wow, this guy’s making it feel real, not a theatrical exercise.”

We went from being effectively on the dole to performing at festivals around the world. There was a lot of partying, and the play had people buzzing about it. It was the ground zero moment for all of us in the company.

I’m older than him, so it felt a bit like having a younger brother. We joked around a lot and would adopt these characters, pretending to be these ridiculous luvvies who had nothing but anger and bitterness; he’d say, “This five-star hotel is just not good enough for us,” and all that carry on.

He moved to London and in 2006, I followed to the same area – Queen’s Park – with my wife, and we started to see each other again. I was proud that he was making a name for himself in films, and I forgot what an animal he was on the stage until he came to me with the idea of adapting [my play] Misterman.

We had a hilarious time working with one another again on my new play, Ballyturk; we have a similar sense of humour, we’re obsessed with music, and it was great for us to do together. In the wrong hands my text can sound lyrical and flouncy, but he’s got a way of saying it that seems true, while he moves round stage with the shape of a Buster Keaton; he loves the rhyme of a physical gag. Anyone who knows him thinks he’s hilarious, though he tells the worst jokes, using awful plays on words. When he was in [2003 film] Girl with a Pearl Earring, he spent a whole day texting me puns on the title; he’s a bit of nerd in that way.

We had quite a moment between us a few years ago when Cillian’s son Malachy and my daughter Ada were both together in the living room of our child-minder, a woman from Donegal, and we were all sitting down on a couch together. It was beautiful; all those years since we first met and we’ve remained friends – and now we’re looking out for one another’s kids, too.

 

Written by Adam Jacques in The Independent 21.09.14

Enda Walsh: ‘Pure theatre animal’ explores solitude and the void below

Enda Walsh, playwright and screenwriter, at London's National Theatre

The Irish playwright-director, Enda Walsh, would seem to have the world at his feet. His latest play, Ballyturk, was acclaimed in Galway this summer and opened at the Lyttelton on Tuesday with a star cast comprising Cillian Murphy, Mikel Murfi and Stephen Rea. Walsh’s book for the long-running musical Once won him a Tony award on Broadway. And, at the age of 47, Walsh lives a comfortable life in Kilburn with his independently successful wife, who is fashion editor of the Financial Times, and their young daughter.

Yet Walsh, in plays like Bedbound, The Walworth Farce, Misterman and now Ballyturk, persistently deals with solitary, hermetic characters who live in terror of the outside world. How does one explain the apparent contradiction between the man and the work?

“I was talking about this to Cillian in rehearsal the other day,” says Walsh in the course of a telephone interview. “I told him about a ground-zero moment I had some years ago. Just after my play Disco Pigs opened in 1996 and was being picked up everywhere, I was walking over Patrick’s bridge in Cork and I stopped dead still and felt absolutely terrified that I was alive and had to keep on living.

“The moment lasted maybe five seconds and I kept on walking. But it’s a playwright’s job to explore that feeling that, however many good days you may have, you are still ultimately alone and walking around in your own private universe,” he says.

Beckett, whose influence on Walsh is palpable, and Pinter would recognise that idea that beneath the surface of everyday life lays a gaping black hole: indeed Pinter from his youth frequently quoted a phrase of Cardinal Newman that creation is a vast “aboriginal calamity”. But Walsh is very much his own man and creates his own unique world on stage: in Ballyturk the nameless characters may occupy a womb-like space but they pass their days fantasising about life in the imagined Irish town that gives the play its title and engaging in speeded-up comic rituals that remind one of Buster Keaton.

Walsh admits that the play sprang from two specific moments: an image and a conversation. The former came during a technical rehearsal for Misterman in New York: Cillian Murphy, totally wrapped up in his role, was absorbed in talking to the sole character’s mother on a tape-recorder while the production manager, Eamonn Fox, sat a few feet away raptly fixing a table leg. Out of that came the idea that two people can be intimately bound together yet totally solitary.

The other trigger was a moment when Walsh’s daughter, then aged six, started asking him about death and whether one thought about it all the time. “I explained to her,” says Walsh, “that, if you’re lucky, you fall in love and have a family, a job and go on holiday even if death is an ever-present reality. That idea certainly found its way into Ballyturk.”

Paradox

The persistent paradox of Walsh is that his plays are haunted by death and solitude yet his characters are filled with a phenomenal verbal and physical energy. But I suspect the ultimate source of this dichotomy lies in Walsh’s childhood.

“I’m still stuck in my head,” he says, “as a 13-year-old boy in the Ireland of the early 1980s. I grew up in Dublin in a suburban, middle-class family. There were six children and family dinners were always raucous, noisy affairs. I also bonded with my dad over comics like The Three Stooges, whose films were always showing on RTÉ.

“But my dad ran a furniture business, which he lost at the time of the Great Recession before dying of a brain haemorrhage,” he says.

“It was terrible but I’d still say that growing up around a businessman is a great training for a playwright. I look at my dad’s life and see that he constantly had to slip in and out of character and that, beneath the surface bonhomie, there was always a sub-text. I feel that for years my plays were based on my dad’s furniture shop.

“Even when I first walked on to the set of Ballyturk, I recognised images from my own childhood.”

Given his father’s enforced role-playing and the fact that his mother was an actor, it would seem Walsh was destined to be a playwright. But his first impulse was either to form a band or be a film-maker. Studying film, however, in the Ireland of the late 1980s was, Walsh once said, “like studying dentistry in a country with no teeth”. Instead he settled in Cork, where he worked with a new theatre company called Corcadora for which he acted, directed and eventually started writing plays. Out of this came his first big hit, Disco Pigs, a tragedy-laced portrait of a pair of misfit teenagers.

For all the verbal firepower of that and the subsequent plays, it would be misleading to see Walsh as part of a linguistically exuberant, Irish storytelling tradition. What is striking about plays like The New Electric Ballroom (2005), The Walworth Farce (2006) or Penelope (2010) is that Walsh’s characters seem entrapped by their memories or myth-making propensities; at the same time, they display a mesmerising kinetic energy.

“I suspect,” says Walsh’s friend and long-time colleague Mikel Murfi, “that playwriting is for Enda a way of exercising, or possibly exorcising, his private demons. It’s a fact that, when he first came to London, he suffered a form of compulsive-obsessive disorder. But that may help to explain the extraordinary physicality you find in all his work.”

Demands

For Walsh himself the motive for the astonishing demands he makes on his actors in Ballyturk is that he knew he was writing for two highly expressive performers: Murfi tells me that the moment in Ballyturk where he has to embody the imagined town’s population in the space of 30 seconds stems from a promise Walsh once made that he would write him a piece where he had to play 50 different characters. For Walsh, in fact, theatre is all about the immediacy of the living moment.

“Beckett’s not a conscious influence,” claims Walsh, “but he taught us all two great things. One is that he helped free drama from any obligation to be sociological: the other is that he showed us the power of real time. I’m hugely attracted to that and don’t really understand theatre that deals with action over several days. And, although I may have started out being preoccupied by language, I’m now obsessed by form.

“I remember once talking to Sarah Kane and asking her how she was getting on with her new play. She said ‘I haven’t started writing it yet but I can hum it.’ That’s exactly it. You have to find the internal rhythm of a play in order to make it work.”

That obsession with form and the visceral impact of theatre is partly what drives Walsh on. He’s worked in film, writing the screenplay for a movie of Disco Pigs and co-scripting the prize-winning Hunger (2008) – directed bySteve McQueen and dealing with Bobby Sands, the IRA man who starved himself to death in protest over British rule. But you feel that film is a diversion from Walsh’s real task.

It’s significant that Anne Clarke, whose company Landmark Productions co-produced Ballyturk with the Galway International Arts Festival, and Murfi both use exactly the same phrase to describe Walsh: “a pure theatre animal”. And Clarke, who describes Walsh as “a gift to Irish theatre”, is eagerly looking forward to working with him next year on a new chamber opera he has written, Gas, composed by Donnacha Dennehy.

When I ask Murfi how he would describe Walsh to someone who had never met him, he says: “Gentle, mannerly, funny, quiet – although, if pressed, he might sing a Neil Diamond song for you at a party.”

Yet Walsh’s physically explosive characters inhabit a world of enclosed solitude. Murfi comes closest to explaining the contradiction that is Enda Walsh by saying “he gets to divest himself of his anxieties in his work and shows how the darkness within Ireland exists alongside our bonkers attitude to the exhilaration of life.”

Potted profile

Born 1967

Career Started writing plays in Cork in 1993 and has since authored 17 stage plays, two radio plays, three screenplays, the book for a musical and an opera libretto.

High point Winning a Tony award on Broadway for his book for the musical Once, which won in eight categories.

Low point Two years of panic attacks when he first moved to London involving drinking a glass of water at the same time every day or visiting the same cafe for the same lunch.

What he says “You don’t have to understand everything. You’ll get it in the heart.”

What they say “He has an instinctive, visceral understanding of how theatre works”: Garry Hynes, artistic director of Druid Theatre Company.

 

Written by Michael Billington in The Guardian 18.09.14

Review – Metro

Another fantastic four stars for Ballyturk from Sam Marlow in the Metro:
‘a crazy, wildly colourful collision of angst, poetry and slapstick … it’s a play with a heart of deep darkness but it’s also touching and hysterically funny, performed with virtuosic skill and mesmeric intensity … the action is as acrobatic as the language is lyrical … it is dizzying but, in its own delirious, humane way, it makes perfect sense.’

Click here to read the full review in the Metro 17.09.14

Review – Daily Express

****  ‘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

Review – Evening Standard

**** ‘a deliciously strange new play from Enda Walsh, which brings together three superb actors … Cillian Murphy, here eye-poppingly athletic and very funny, alongside the enigmatic and wonderfully hangdog Stephen Rea and restless shape-shifter Mikel Murfi …. there are scenes of manic physicality as well as slow-moving intensity … it’s stunningly performed, and Walsh’s writing has wild verve.

Like most of Enda Walsh’s work, this deliciously strange new play revels in the ludicrous.

Ballyturk is a deliciously strange new play from Enda Walsh, which brings together three superb actors: the wiry but elegant Cillian Murphy, here eye-poppingly athletic and very funny, alongside the enigmatic and wonderfully hangdog Stephen Rea and restless shape-shifter Mikel Murfi.

Like most of Walsh’s work it revels in the ludicrous. It’s explicitly set in “no time” and “no place”, and the characters are known by numbers rather than names. Murphy’s breathless 1 and Murfi’s sturdy 2 are trapped in a viewless room — a bedsit, garage or ward in an unconventional asylum.

Their relationship, dominated by fantasies of the world beyond this space, feels like a hybrid of Morecambe and Wise, Samuel Beckett and Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood. As they work out to Eighties pop songs or swing golf clubs dementedly, 1 and 2 resemble Beckett’s tramps in Waiting For Godot, forever finding ways to pass the time. But unlike in Beckett’s play the Godot figure turns up — and Rea’s dry, urbane 3 is a mix of night-club crooner and self-important philosopher. His arrival is cataclysmic. It also inspires 1 and 2 to start a tense game of Jenga with their best biscuits

There are scenes of manic physicality as well as slow-moving intensity, and Walsh (who directs) makes full use of the Lyttelton Theatre’s space. The production’s technical finesse is typified by Murfi who bounces around like a rubber ball yet even in his most animal moments moves with balletic precision.

For all the flashes of humour Ballyturk is a bleak and exacting piece — abstract, at times cloyingly whimsical and pickled in its own absurdity.

But it’s stunningly performed, and Walsh’s writing has wild verve.

Written by Henry Hitchings for the Evening Standard 17.09.14

Review – Time Out

**** ‘Enda Walsh’s wilfully cryptic, gorgeously poetic and clownishly physical new play … a fearless physicality that catapults your heart into your mouth … stunning … beautiful … dazzling’

Fans of Samuel Beckett, Buster Keaton, the TV show ‘Lost’ and ’80s electro pop will all find something to enjoy in Enda Walsh’s wilfully cryptic, gorgeously poetic and clownish new play.

Highly strung, sweaty Cillian Murphy and fractionally less highly strung and sweaty Mikel Murfi are two men with no names, living in a strange, ramshackle room. At the start, Murphy is singled out under a spotlight, babbling his way through a weird, unsettling story about a town called Ballyturk, which we later see drawn on the walls of the room. Then the lights slam on, and there’s Murfi, gawping and dopey, clad only in his underpants. This funny moment begins a truly bravura set piece in which ABC’s ‘The Look of Love’ blasts out through the old record player in the corner while the two men blitz through their morning routine – breakfast, dress, shower – with a turbocharged ineptitude and fearless physicality that catapults your heart into your mouth.

Also directed by Walsh, the show runs to 90 minutes, and for at least 89 of them I didn’t reeeeeeally have any idea what was going on. ‘Ballyturk’ is considerably more obtuse than the last Walsh/Murphy hook-up, 2011’s ‘Misterman’, which wasn’t exactly straightforward either. But Murphy and Murfi’s childish, nervous and incredibly physical play is consistently fascinating. For the most part it’s funny as well as occasionally creepy. And just when we wonder if anything is actually going to happen, it really does: with a tremendous roar of mangled strings, the back wall collapses, revealing the figure of Stephen Rea, smoking on a bank of grass with his back to the room – a truly stunning tableaux.

Rea’s character clearly knows what is going on, though Walsh will be damned if he tells us. But the manic textures subside, giving the second half of ‘Ballyturk’ a more meditative quality. Its most dazzling moment is a beautiful speech from Murphy in which he yearns for a world where ‘a boy can run not only on the word “beach” but on the beach itself’.

After a while, Rea departs, and just when it seems Walsh is going to let the play end without explaining anything, there’s a stark revelation that gives all the previous action a brilliant clarity. It’s the most dazzling moment in ‘Ballyturk’s constellation of set pieces.

Written by Andrzej Lukowski for Time Out, 17.09.14

“A woman said my play was terrifing but that i was a lovely boy” Enda Walsh – The Times

Benedict Nightingale speaks to Enda Wash in The Times ahead of the London opening of Ballyturk at the National Theatre. Click here to read the full article.

Review – Fintan O’Toole: Irish Times

The relationship between words and movement in Enda Walsh’s new play, in which two weirdly innocent men are trapped in an endless knockabout farce, is more seamless than in any Irish dramatist since Beckett

So Jean-Paul Sartre, Samuel Beckett and Flann O’Brien are jointly commissioned to write a sketch for The Morecambe & Wise Show. Over a bottle of absinthe they concoct something like Enda Walsh’s Ballyturk. It has elements of Sartre’s No Exit, Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and O’Brien’sThe Third Policeman. But it’s also pure Eric and Ernie: two weirdly innocent men who share a bed but are not lovers, trapped in an endless knockabout farce, putting on “a play what I wrote”.

The result is strange and funny and manic and very, very dark. It is tempting to say that there is nothing quite like it – except, of course, that most of Walsh’s work is quite like it. Which makes Ballyturk a somewhat disconcerting experience: thrilling in its vivid immediacy but just a little dispiriting in its crushing pessimism.

Writers tend to be divisible into explorers who range restlessly and excavators who sift endlessly through the same patch of soil. Walsh is the most extreme excavator in the Irish theatre. It is not just that his plays tend to repeat the same patterns. It is that the patterns they repeat are themselves endless repetitions. He gives us people who are locked into stories they can neither escape nor end.

It is not accidental that Walsh wrote a brilliant play about the myth of Penelope, who weaves a shroud by day and unravels it by night. That’s pretty much what Walsh himself does, weaving and unweaving the same metal cloth.

Thus Ballyturk revisits Walsh’s last collaboration with Cillian Murphy and Mikel Murfi, Misterman, produced at Galway Arts Festival in 2011, which itself revisited the original 1999 version of the same play. There, Murphy’s isolated character lived in a world of voices that he shaped into the town of Inishfree. Here, Murphy is joined by Murfi onstage and, in contrast to his roaming Misterman persona, closed into a room. But, again, the primary action is the evocation through voices of a fictional town, Ballyturk. The population is similar enough: the shopkeeper, the gossip, the furtive lovers, the ne’er-do-well. This playing out of a repeated scenario, meanwhile, is itself essentially a repeat of another remarkable Walsh play, The Walworth Farce.

These repetitions are not dull; they’re just the way Walsh’s imagination operates. If he were a composer he’d be a minimalist. If he were a poet he would write in deliberately restrictive forms such as the sonnet. He seems to need the rigidity of a confined space and a fixed set of repeating patterns: even in film, it does not seem accidental that the H-blocks of the repeated hunger strikes (Hunger) or the intensely internal world of online relationships (Chatroom) suit his aesthetic.

What matters is the energy he brings to rattling the cages he makes for himself – and it is a phenomenal, overpowering force. The manic quality of much of Ballyturk – the hyped-up physical and mental effort that the two locked-in men have to expend to keep themselves alive – is channelled into an often breathtaking theatricality. Theatre thrives on pressure, and here the pressure gauge is high into the red. Murphy and Murfi are in constant motion because, like sharks, they must move or die. Walsh’s great strength is that he writes this motion. There is a relationship between words and movement (he directs his own play) more seamless than in any Irish dramatist since Beckett. There is no discernible divide between script and performance: language and movement are honed into a single point of attack.

In some ways, watching Ballyturk is more like being at a boxing match than attending a well-behaved play – but without a break between rounds. Walsh’s choreography would indeed be worthy of Eric and Ernie – no mean compliment. One of its pleasures is that it allows Murfi to remind us what a great clown he has always been.

The sheer vitality of these performances, allied to Stephen Rea’s laconic and enigmatic allure as the sinister deus ex machina who enters and controls the enclosed world, makesBallyturk essential viewing. But it does not entirely blow away certain hesitations. One is that, to me at least, the manic energy makes the slower, more melancholic or lyrical moments that are crucial to the play more difficult and problematic. It matters enormously that the viewer is deeply moved by a longer speech of Murphy’s towards the end; I found the shift of tone and tempo hard to assimilate.

Another is that the fictional towns are locked away from any sense of what has happened in Ireland in the past 20 or even 30 years. That may be part of Walsh’s point, but it nonetheless creates a strangely static frame of reference.

The last is that Ballyturk really is astonishingly bleak, with a final coup de theatre that kicks any incipient sense of possibility in the teeth. It plays out the logic of the only alternatives that Walsh seems to admit: either die or play out the same arid rituals over again. It’s a pointed contrast to, for example, Tom Murphy’s Bailegangaire, in which the same idea of a repeated story is driven towards resolution. Walsh’s brilliance earns him the right not to do resolutions, but audiences retain the right to wish for them.

Written by Fintan O’Toole in the Irish Times 16.08.14