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 The TheatreguideLondon Review

Ballyturk
Lyttelton Theatre   Autumn 2014

In a programme note Colm Toibin writes of Enda Walsh's plays, 'The drama comes from the conflict between our hope that this is leading somewhere and Walsh's refusal to allow it to'. Fortunately Ballyturk is not as pretentious or precious or obscure as that makes it sound. 

It presents an odd situation and eventually offers an explanation that raises more questions than it answers. It suggests some dreadful thoughts and some optimistic ones, and it might even be allegorical, but it does have both meaning and theatrical life. 

Two men live in a large room, their days marked by both regimentation and near-frenzied energy – just putting on their clothes in the morning involves manic racing about that is paradoxically tightly choreographed. 

At clock-driven intervals they expose a wall full of sketches of people's faces, choose some at random, and then one tells a story about these characters, all residents of the village of Ballyturk, while the other acts it out. 

The eventual appearance of a third man will offer some answers to our questions, which I won't give away here except to say that the first pair seem to have been separated from reality and forced to create an alternate reality of their own. Where that revelation leaves them is the final movement of the play. 

As you may have guessed, the shadow of Samuel Beckett lies heavily over this play, not entirely to its detriment.

Like Vladimir and Estragon, Walsh's pair have found themselves in a context that offers them nothing, and like Beckett's tramps they have created out of nothing what they need to survive mentally and emotionally. 

The specifics that I have glossed over give this play a very dark tone, but like Beckett Walsh posits a human spirit that cannot be defeated because it doesn't know how not to survive. (And not totally incidentally, like Waiting For Godot, this play is full of bits of comedy and simple human warmth that keep it from drifting off into an intellectual exercise.) 

This production from Landmark Productions and the Galway International Arts Festival is impeccable, the playwright directing with a sure hand that captures both the comic and serious sides and (contrary to Toibin's warning) keeps the play moving forward toward meaning. 

Cillian Murphy is a spring of boundless and barely controllable energy as what we might call the Estragon figure, dependent on Mikel Murfi's older and more settled Vladimir type, while Stephen Rea invests the outsider with an appropriately mysterious, sinister and possibly supernatural air.

Gerald Berkowitz


Review -  Ballyturk - National Theatre 2014
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