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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Misterman
Lyttelton Theatre    Spring 2012

A troubled young man lives in a deserted warehouse (brilliant set design by Jamie Vartan, exploiting the full depths of the Lyttelton's enormous stage) that he has fitted out with a string of old-fashioned reel-to-reel tape recorders on which he has recorded sound effects and other people's voices, timed so that he can carry on conversations with them as he recreates a typical day in his Irish village. 

Gradually we understand that he is trying to control reality by making the day turn out better than it did the first time around, an attempt we sense is doomed as real life insists on taking over and the unhappy ending he was trying to negate looms inevitably. 

Or perhaps there's another way of understanding Enda Walsh's enigmatic new play, with the entire warehouse and tape recorders construct being a metaphor for the way an autistic lad experiences reality, so removed from other people that they might as well not be there, and this is the actual day and not a reconstruction. 

In either case (and perhaps there are further interpretations), it is clear that we are watching someone ill-equipped to deal with reality attempting to impose some order on it. The boy is very religious, in a simple-minded way, and the thought that he is the only good person among sinners, taking notes on their failings and waiting for Heaven to call on him to help judge them is a large part of what gets him through the day. 

This is, aside from a few recorded voices, a one-man show, and it is certainly the opportunity for a bravura performance by actor Cillian Murphy, who must not only control the large Lyttelton stage but take us into a character so completely lacking in self-knowledge. 

Directed by the playwright, Murphy races about the stage with the enthusiasm of the innocent gradually morphing into the desperation of one losing control of his own story. And though there is inevitably a dark revelation that the storyteller has been trying to avoid, Murphy never lets him lose our sympathy and pity. 

Along the way, of course, there's also a certain amount of comedy, in the depiction of the village and its inhabitants, in the lad's skewed responses to them, and in the Stones In His Pockets-style quick-changes as Murphy occasionally plays both sides in a conversation the character didn't have prerecorded. 

Director Walsh skilfully guides the actor through the complexities and ambiguities of his character, though he's a little less successful in disguising the fact that at 90 minutes the play is a little too long to sustain its fragile construct, and that the revelation the whole script has been building toward, however shocking, is bound to be a bit anticlimactic just because it has been withheld so long.

Gerald Berkowitz


Review - Misterman - National Theatre 2012
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