Review – Irish Times

★★★★
Shades of Vladimir and Estragon, by way of Morcambe and Wise, brilliantly colour this revived and recast take on Enda Walsh tale of creation and confinement.

It’s difficult enough to get out of any small town, as suffocated young artists from Dylan Thomas to Patrick Kavanagh have always known, but the location of Enda Walsh’s 2014 play offers less possibility of escape. Ballyturk, in fact, seems to be a place constructed daily from the minds of two men, trapped together in a vast room without doors or windows, who perform the frantic and frazzled stories of a place they imagine beyond its walls.

As the second of Walsh’s companion pieces about creation and confinement is staged at the Abbey, in Landmark and Galway International Arts Festival’s revived and recast co-production, imprisonment doesn’t prevent variation.

Only Mikel Murfi returns from the original production, playing the older of the nameless pair, joined by Tadgh Murphy, a physical livewire, full of questions, dogged by dim memories and prone to fits. It’s hard not to see them as descendants of Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon, by way of Morcambe and Wise, passing the time with accelerated routines, quick changes and choreographed breakfast rituals.

Occasionally, though, evidence of an outside world intrudes: chatty voices burble through a wall, a buzzing fly makes an entrance (Murphy’s character is agog, he has never seen one) and a potted flower mysteriously appears. Such signs of life are entrancing and perplexing.

Yet the play is closer to a meditation on death; that undiscovered country. “I thought we knew everything there was to know,” says Murphy, stunned by the fly, and soon the boundaries of this tiny world are torn apart completely (in Jamie Vartan’s set, literally) with the arrival of a stranger, played by Olwen Fouéré, who steps carefully down a collapsed wall in her pencil skirt and heels, crouching low, like a preying animal.

Fouéré’s is a fascinating performance (“I’m a collector,” she tells them. “That’s why I’m here.”) with barely a ghost of Stephen Rea’s interpretation of the role. Instead, she refines the character with Walsh (who again directs) to become faintly apologetic while no less commanding. The manic energy of Ballyturk’s routine, excellently delivered by Murfi and Murphy’s double act, stills with her arrival and a proposal: It’s time for one of them to leave.

What they would be departing in Ballyturk is a world of cartoonish exaggeration, tumbling with madcap fictions, avalanches of props and shrieking impersonations – in short, an Enda Walsh play. Like the visitor to The Walworth Farce, Fouéré’s character suggests an alternative to this endless mad performance that may be real life, but her solemn sermons convey that reality without flavour, a quotidian existence rendered from “purpose and mistake”. Life as we know it.

“And what will I do?” asks one friend when the other offers to die. “You’ll live,” comes the reply. Given a choice between the strange energy that keeps them in this confined world, and the beige unknowns of life beyond its limits, its hard to know which is the better option.

Written by Peter Crawley in the Irish Times 09.03.17

Mikel Murfi interviews Enda Walsh for the Abbey Talks

Ballyturk writer and director Enda Walsh talks about the split second spin and disposable energy that fuels creativity with theatre maker and Ballyturk actor Mikel Murfi.
Listen in here.

Enda Walsh on the Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show

Playwright Enda Walsh visits Ian Dempsey and talks about his brilliant works and the various interpretations of them, his collaboration with Ian’s hero David Bowie and….his cockapoo Alvin.
Listen in here. 

Enda Walsh: ‘It should bypass the intellect and go straight to the bones’

He considers himself ‘a profoundly Irish writer’ but this month marks Enda Walsh’s Abbey main stage debut. Andrew Lynch talks to the playwright about this career milestone, losing David Bowie and why he’s not interested in simple, linear narratives.

Enda Walsh has chosen to do this interview while walking his cockapoo Alvin in a London park. As a result, the tape of our conversation is regularly punctuated by his cries of mingled despair and affection: “No, we’re going this way,”, “Please, don’t eat that,” and “Alvin, get out of the pool!” It’s a little distracting, the acclaimed Dublin-born playwright admits, but having a domestic routine is extremely important to him – especially since “I spend about 80pc of the time living inside my head”.

For the next few weeks, sadly, Alvin is going to see a lot less of his master. This month Walsh’s work will be staged at Ireland’s national theatre for the very first time, with an Abbey production of his dystopian drama Arlington to be followed in March by its companion piece Ballyturk. As if that was not enough, February 13 will also see the premiere of his latest play – a site-specific piece called The Same staged at the old Cork Prison and produced by the Corcadorca company where he first made his name.

Ironically, Walsh had once intended 2017 to be a quiet year. He lost his mother, one of his closest friends and his most famous collaborator, David Bowie, in the space of a few months, while recent political events left him feeling that the world is “a complicated and scary place”.

“But instead of sitting back I just kept working, trying to eke out some hope and love,” he muses. “It’s been like having a conversation with myself during a really depressing time.”

Being in the Abbey, he cautiously allows, is an important milestone in his career.

“I’m such a cold fish that I rarely think about these things beforehand, but I probably will when I sit down on opening night. I do consider myself a profoundly Irish writer, like a mixed soup of Tom Murphy, Samuel Beckett, Sean O’Casey and lots of others – although I don’t feel a weight on my shoulders like some people in Britain seem to expect.”

When Walsh was writing his breakthrough play Disco Pigs in the mid-1990s, however, he could not have cared less about Ireland’s theatrical establishment.

“The Abbey seemed staid, conservative, irrelevant,” he recalls. “I still don’t think they’ve produced many great writers or directors over the last 20 years. In Corcadorca there was no need to ‘stick it to the man’ because for us ‘the man’ didn’t exist.”

For this reason, Walsh is particularly excited about being asked to write a new play for Corcadorca’s 25th anniversary. The Same has reunited him with director Pat Kiernan and actress Eileen Walsh, who co-starred in the original Disco Pigs with a then unknown local musician called Cillian Murphy.

“It feels familiar but also incredibly exciting to be in the same room again,” Walsh enthuses.

“Using Cork Prison helps to make the play part of a much larger thing, just like we used to put on shows in nightclubs and all sorts of weird venues. And Cork is a place I’ve always loved – it’s laid out like a natural amphitheatre.”

Walsh is a candid, good-humoured and exceptionally profane interviewee (most of these quotes have expletives deleted). He famously hates being asked what his surreal and dreamlike plays are about, often giving journalists the glib response, “It’s about 80 minutes.

Thankfully, he is willing to supply at least a few more details about The Same, describing it as the story of a woman who arrives in a new city and meets an older version of herself.

“There are two interlocking monologues that eventually become a dialogue,” he explains. “What advice can they give each other and how do they learn to embrace all the failures of their past?”

As this oblique summary suggests, Walsh has no interest in giving his audiences simple linear narratives or neat moral messages. “I used to write plays where you could walk away at the end thinking, ‘Yeah, got it.’ Not any more. Now I want to do more atmospheric work that has a loose shape and allows you to bring your own interpretations. It should bypass the intellect and go straight into your bones.”

Like many people Walsh finds the news “pretty bloody miserable” these days, which helps to explain why his recent dramas all have an overwhelming sense of dread.

Arlington, which was premiered by Landmark Productions at last year’s Galway International Arts Festival, is a futuristic love story with echoes of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and partly influenced by the Brexit campaign (“It showed that Britain has a real inferiority complex.”)

Ballyturk is a giddy romp featuring two young men trapped in a womb-like space, written shortly after Walsh read the Ryan Report on Ireland’s industrial schools.

“I’m never going to comment directly on something like Donald Trump or the Syrian refugee crisis,” he says, “but you can’t avoid being affected by the sense of crisis and terror around us.”

Walsh’s apocalyptic vision may be why David Bowie seems to have seen him as a kindred spirit.

“When I asked him if we could write something like one of his songs, he laughed and said, ‘You’ve been doing that for years, Enda!’ David had absolutely no ego, he just loved making stuff and was constantly Skyping me to discuss new ideas.”

Bowie and Walsh spent 18 months co-creating the musical Lazarus, which opened on Broadway in December 2015 – only a few weeks before the pop icon died of liver cancer.

“Although I knew he was very sick, there was no sense that death was imminent until I saw him on opening night in New York. Then it hit me.

“I really miss him, but I’m so glad that Lazarus turned out the way we wanted – not warm and all-embracing like most musicals but cold like a feverish sort of dream.”

Not surprisingly, sharing a byline with David Bowie has left Walsh more in demand than ever.

“But I don’t have a commercial bone in my body and I constantly fire myself from jobs,” he protests, adding that with his 50th birthday approaching, he is already starting to think about retirement.

“As much as I adore writing, switching off this brain and living quietly in Ireland again sounds like a nice potential future.”

Then he calls Alvin to heel one last time and concludes, “Maybe in two dogs’ time!”

 

Written by Andrew Lynch for The Independent 05.02.17

Ballyturk to play at The Abbey Theatre, Dublin

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

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

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