Ballyturk

Lyttelton, National Theatre

Enda Walsh is the most aggravating, challenging of playwrights. A weaver of fantasies, his back catalogue (includes Disco Pigs, The Walworth Farce and Misterman as well as the book of the musical, Once) gives hints enough of his distinctive style: of characters locked or indeed imprisoned in their own worlds, the creation of intensely private, hermetic states of being.

Ballyturk intensifies this pattern. More than ever before, Walsh comes over as Beckett’s inheritor. There are all sorts of implications you could lay at the door of Ballyturk: fear of the unknown, the imminence of death, life as a meaningless passing of time between cradle and grave.

But most of all what comes from Walsh’s own never-never land production is that it is quintessentially about theatre – of itself and in itself. Like Waiting for Godot – to which it pays a number of homages – it locks two characters in a space, or rather, since there are a number of references to our earthly globe suspended in the cosmos, in space.

The antics that ensue are both clown-like and desperate. Alarms go off, cuckoo clocks pop out, voices percolate through walls whilst the two characters involved – two brothers – race frenziedly through daily routines whilst also veering into Dylan Thomas like descriptions of the fictional village of Ballyturk.

The effect is at once hectic, uncomfortable and utterly confusing. Walsh gives us no guide as to the whys and wherefores although some clues emerge – memories of family, nature, desertion, catastrophe. Who knows. Until the arrival of Stephen Rea – a third party – who with an eloquence and purpose Walsh previously resists – gives us a 21st century prose version of `life’s but a walking shadow’ full of intimations of the worlds we build inside ourselves, every day. And death as re-assurance, not to be feared.

Rea’s is a fabulous verbal and metaphysical soliloquy, so too Murphy’s final monologue before oblivion, entirely conjured by the power of words and the context of the moment. Pure theatre.

But mostly, it’s a hard day’s night. I remember feeling similar bafflement the first time with Beckett. Needless to say, the performances of Murphy and Murfi are extraordinary, Rea haunting.

First published in Reviewsgate, Sept 2014