Misterman

Wed, Jul 13, 2011, 01:00

Black Box Theatre, Galway

We will arise and go now, and go to Inishfree. Not the safe haven of the WB Yeats poem, but the darkly imagined midlands town of Enda Walsh’s surreal one-man play. Seen through the eyes of a quiet, devoutly religious loner – or, more precisely, created in front of us with his jerry-rigged apparatus – it is a place somewhere between purgatory and hell, where Thomas Magill, instrument of the Lord, carefully records everybody’s daily trespasses.

Alone in Black Box Theatre’s eerily cavernous space, Cillian Murphy’s sandals and biblical beard may suggest a Messiah complex, but Enda Walsh’s greatly expanded version of his 1999 play pushes further: he is actually playing God. “Let there be light,” says Murphy, and lo, lamps burn from above and below, casting ghoulish shadows across Jamie Vartan’s exposed, industrial set.

Some will see Thomas’s reel-to-reel tape recorders, which supply sounds and voices within his created world, less as a nod to Beckett than a deliberate headbutt. But Walsh’s character now makes the debt more explicit, desperately inscribing his existence into the world through a perpetual ritual, replaying one fateful day – partly as penance, partly as a bravura performance.

There is an arresting, intensely theatrical absurdity here, which Murphy nails in the opening moments as he tries to silence an unquenchable Doris Day song, and it locates Mistermanmore snugly among Walsh’s later plays, The Walworth Farceand The New Electric Ballroom.

Thomas, isolated and vengeful, belongs more to horror-comedy than tragi-comedy, though, owing as much to Beckett’s Krapp as DeNiro’s Travis Bickle or Anthony Perkins’s Psycho.

In a genuinely virtuoso performance, Murphy thus uses the minute detail of a film actor – his flickering eyes and expressive range are deftly eloquent – together with an impressive physicality that fills the stage (Walsh’s frequent collaborator Mikel Murfi is movement director). Delineating between several characters with instant shifts in voice and body, he charges through the space, never removing a prop if it can be flung, never approaching a liquid without sloshing it over his ruined world. It’s fiendishly enjoyable to watch, as are the fillips of hokey stage devices, even as the dread of his tale creeps up on you.

The biggest gestures here still belong to Walsh, who directs, and while much of his new version explores the leaky crevices of Thomas’s mind, some of it – such as an Edenic stroll through a park – feels like unnecessary elaboration. Similarly, while the plot has been refined, it still works towards a shocking payoff. The cataclysmic sound is tremendous – for which designer Gregory Clarke and composer Donnacha Dennehy deserve special mention – but the play’s softer moments are its most haunting. “Being an only kitten in a town full of dogs would be a terrible curse,” Thomas tells a recording of his mother’s disembodied voice, yet that is clearly his fate.

Too gentle, really, to be as dangerous as Walsh suggests, he is more fascinating in his impossible attempt to create and control his place in the world, and in Murphy’s brilliant performance anyone can identify with it.

– Runs until July 24