By Leah Quinn
Having impressed audiences back in 2011 with his solo appearance in Misterman, also under the direction of Enda Walsh, Murphy had already set the bar quite high for himself and his fellow actors. This performance saw him joined on stage by academy award nominee, Stephen Rea and the lesser-known Mikel Murfi.
The stage seemed set for a night of theatrical tension from the start as it opened to Murphy’s face lit only by a flashlight in centre stage. Murphy immediately displayed his vast range of acting skills through an energetic impression of what seemed like an overheard two-way conversation between various rural characters. His face and change of voice informed the audience of the lunacy that was to follow and of the quick pace with which we were expected to keep up.
The intensity of his ominous spot lit face was diffused when the stage became fully lit and we saw that he was not alone, but accompanied by a very pale red-haired man, dressed only in his briefs as he listens to Murphy’s ravings whilst finishing off a packet of crisps-a bizarre image but none-the less amusing.
The lighting of the stage in full not only presented the audience with Murphy’s odd companion, but also with the bizarre setting in which they found themselves. Situated in a self contained room, the duo were surrounded by crude teak cupboards nailed at different heights on the walls, a small shower, an old record player and a wall covered in strange sketches depicting faces and urban scenes.
It was when the record player started by its own accord that the physicality involved in this play really took hold as both Murphy and Mikel Murfi began to race about frantically dressing and undressing, bursting balloons, hopping in the shower, opening and closing cupboards, throwing stacks of shoes about and high-fiving each other in between.
Up until the first 30 minutes into the production, it seemed Walsh was going for a Beckett style of dialogue which had no obvious end or beginning and ran desperately into itself leaving sense and reason behind. The audience were evidently bemused and exhausted from the trying to keep up not only with the actor’s conversations but also from trying to keep both actors in their eye line as Murphy would often move from centre stage to a foetal position on top of a cupboard in the flash of a stage light.
It seemed this play may be all too obscure to stomach until Stephen Rea’s character entered and opened up its meaning which was a huge twist and put this production on another par to what we would have previously expected.
Rea entered, as he often tends to do, like a foreboding plume of smoke onto the stage, meandering his way around the actors and creating a delicious tension that could be felt in any seat in the house. His excellent delivery and careless expressions set him apart from Murphy and Murfi’s characters as they became more vulnerable and childlike in his presence. It was through the presence of Rea’s character that we began to put sense to the frantic twitchings and sporadic spiels of the nervous duo that dominated the start of the play and awash of excitement and fear could be felt as this strange tale began to unravel in front of your eyes- “It’s normal to feel nervous when you’ve lost yourself, it happens but it passes.”
Overall this was a play like no other, the sheer energy and dedication to delivery and physicality required by the story was a wonder to behold. Walsh has managed to write a play that makes us question ourselves and our fragility as humans in a dark but also very intelligent kind of way. It is also hard to imagine any actors other than Cillian Murphy and Stephen Rea playing their parts as Murphy brought both intensity and innocence to his complex role. Stephen delivered what any fan would expect and all of this translated wondrously from the stage to the audience.
Ballyturk plays at The National Theatre until October 11th.