In MiddleTown review: Mikel Murfi’s wonderful physicality in an unusual performance space

The ghost of Enda Walsh hovers around the edges of the Gate Truck’s touring production

IN MIDDLETOWN

Gate Theatre, the Gate Truck, touring until August 14th
★★★☆☆
In Mikel Murfi's new solo performance piece, a middle-aged furniture-removal man finds himself moved to change his life. He begins to divest himself of his worldly goods and packs his vital possessions into his truck, before driving out into the unknown. Prompted by his own probing conscience (which functions like a narrator and is presented as recorded voiceover), he probes his past and assembles his ascetic vision for the future.

The ghost of Enda Walsh, several of whose plays Murfi has performed in, hovers around the edges of this fabular drama, in which Murfi offers us his man as an Everyman; his struggles with materialism as representative of broader human crisis. What does a man need to be happy? What does a man need to live a good life? The serious philosophising, however, is undercut by a heavy dose of pantomime.

Murfi, who co-founded the influential Barabbas in the 1990s, is very much a clown at heart and he brings a wonderful physicality to his engagement with the unusual performance space: sliding down the outside of a ladder with his feet, tumbling through a trapdoor in his bunk to the floor below, pedalling furiously to power his lamps. However, the balance between the two elements – the playful and the profound – is never fully established, although as Murfi disappears improbably into the slipper bath in the final moments, it almost comes close.

Designer Sabine Dargent embraces the cramped simplicity of the Gate Truck, which opens at the side to reveal the essentials of Murfi’s life; it is also like staring into the inside of his head. Despite its frugality, the set is full of surprises, and Murfi revels in presenting these visually playful reveals. Like a slick magician, he pulls oversized items from his overalls, dips his head into the bath and reappears with a hat on his head.

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Despite the makeshift, mobile nature of the stage, the Gate Truck facilitates a meticulously professional production. Sinéad Wallace adjusts her lighting design subtly to the dimming sky of a nine o’clock show, while Sandra O’Mahony’s sound design is complemented by the screams of circling gulls above. Indeed, these visual and aural reminders of the natural world in the outdoor setting cut to the heart of Murfi’s “conversation with himself”. What does a man need to live a good life? Just open your eyes, Murfi implores, to the world around you.