Boasting stellar performances from Cillian Murphy, Stephen Rea and Mikel Murfi, Enda Walsh’s new play, Ballyturk, which he also directs, is another fine collaboration with Landmark Productions and Galway Arts Festival, with whom he enjoyed success with Misterman in 2012.
The play revisits familiar Walsh terrain: characters stave off trauma and isolation through the dynamic power of words. In Ballyturk, two nameless brothers (Murphy and Murfi), confined mysteriously to a small room, take solace in inventing a mundane Irish village. They act out the lives of the fictional town’s inhabitants. Yet Murphy’s melancholic character is haunted by a sense of the world outside.
When Rea’s character suddenly — and brilliantly — enters the fold, a way out emerges. But it’s not the freedom for which Murphy’s nervy soul has longed.
As ever with Walsh, Ballyturk is easy on the ears. Where Samuel Beckett’s gift was to pare away ruthlessly at language, Walsh conjures a Beckettian world but, by contrast, pumps it with linguistic poesy. These impeccable actors feast on the mighty spiel. But it’s not just Walsh’s dialogue that hits the spot. There is a riotous, rococo energy to the visuals and the sound design: for example, when Murphy launches high-heel shoes into the air, or Rea breaks into crooner mode. It’s delirious and captivating.
But the play stumbles thematically. Walsh has long been querying the way people construct their worlds, but the blend of pathos and enigma here — enticing as it is — is too portentous, without ever having much to say. Nevertheless, this is thrilling theatre, visceral and cerebral, hilarious and sad. And its bold, ominous final scene will live long in the memory.