Misterman at The Black Box

October 24, 2013

Cillian Murphy explodes onto the stage like a man possessed in Landmark Production’s and The Galway Arts Festival’s co-production of Enda Walsh’s Misterman, in what is most likely the performance of the year. Flinging himself about the place as Thomas Magill, “the only kitten in a town full of dogs” he is tormented by the voices in his head as he relives, within the cavernous space of his mind, the minute details of his last day in his home of Inishfree.

Some voices are a source of comfort, like that of Mammy or Mrs O Learey. Others, like the bully Dwain Flynn or the vengeful dog Roger, torment Thomas, clawing at his sanity and driving him off the ledge of reason. Some of these voices boom out of the reel to reel tape recorders that are placed all over the space (insert your own Beckett reference here), sometimes prompted, often not. But primarily they are brought to life by Murphy whose ability to switch from the fey and mild mannered Thomas to the multitude of bitter and backward townsfolk, regardless of sex or sensibility, will make a lasting impression on all who see it.

While few people can doubt Murphy’s gifts as a performer, fewer still could have predicted that the stunningly blue-eyed film star could have a performance of such range and magnitude within him. His energy, his perception, his comic ability and physical awareness are nothing short of brilliant. As he careers around the space, kicking, spitting, flipping and spacing out, he captures the fine line between religious fervor and outright insanity.

Thomas dreams of leading a spiritual revolution in Inishfree, to do the work of the Lord and to replenish the souls of the wanton town folk whom he believes have embraced sin. Deep down he also seethes with resentment at the way they treated him and Mammy, who lost their shop when his father died and for whom no one raised a finger. The violent action, spurred on by the personal failings of a much longed for fellow missionary and the duplicitous “Angel” Edel, is terrifically realised by Murphy, whose constant motion keeps him far from the cloud like Zen Thomas dreams of. He flys from doe eyed innocence to rabid zeal that belies his belief that his salvation is just around the corner.

The shadows and sound that swirl around Jamie Vartan’s hollow, two story set insure that we, the audience, know that there can be no salvation. Trapped in the purgatorial confines of his warped reality, Gregory Clarke’s sound design insures that Thomas is never aloud settle for too long while Donnacha Dennehy’s score, both nostalgic and jarringly foreign, rattles him with feelings and memories he cannot handle.

The production is blessed with a warped and wonderful aesthete, where Jammy Dodgers fall from the sky and everything that gets in Thomas’ way is tossed or upturned. If Murphy is the star then movement coach Mikel Murfi is its nuclear core giving the production an explosive flare. But while Enda Walsh, directing his own rejigged script, has done a marvelous job at the helm, there’s only so long that this can make up for his below par script.

Overwritten and undercooked the juxtaposition of the humor and the horror, whilst perfectly played by Murphy, never quite complement the story that Walsh is trying to tell and there is a tendency to veer off into tangents that dull the sense of foreboding that was so well built elsewhere. The Angel subplot felt tagged on, as if to hasten Thomas’ descent into madness, and in spite of Murphy’s incredible efforts the foundation just wasn’t in the text to allow a credible transformation from oddity to nut.

That being said, as a piece of writing, it also burst through the glass ceiling usually applied to one man shows, tearing up the recitational approach and insisting on a vigorous and thrillingly applied aesthetic that was compounded by the flawless performance of an actor who must now surely be considered the finest young actor in the country


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