I don’t profess to have seen every single one of Enda Walsh’s plays but Ballyturk loosely follows the pattern of two that I have, namely The Walworth Farce and Misterman. This pattern can loosely be determined as a play within a play set in a sealed environment from which there doesn’t appear to be an escape route. The characters enact various scenarios using the voices of the community in which the “play” is set, whilst giving nothing tangible away as to what is going on. So far so obscure and that is the rub, according to one reviewer of Ballyturk who wrote, “what’s the point?”. The point, as far as I’m concerned, is that he’s missing it! Ballyturk, thanks to the acting abilities (and stamina) of the cast is funny, poignant and, ultimately, entertaining. Is the fact that one can’t necessarily fathom what Enda Walsh is getting at really that important? I don’t think so. It just means that the audience have their own views on what is happening and why. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
The impenetrable space (that is until Stephen Rea’s character appears) in the village of Ballyturk is wonderfully realised by Jamie Vartan. It is a bleak, grey room, its walls embellished with naïve pencil drawings of the inhabitants of this fictional place. Odd pieces of furniture are stacked against one wall, whilst the other is home to a cuckoo clock and fake potted plant. There is, amongst other paraphernalia, an exercise bike and a hand held vacuum cleaner. The latter is slavishly used to hoover up spilt cornflakes by Mikel Murfi, which seems a useless exercise seeing as there follows an episode where talcum powder is liberally shaken everywhere. That the two actors, Cillian Murphy and Mikel Murfi, are fit is without question. Watching them race maniacally through their daily routine, dressing, undressing, dancing to the hits of the 80’s and the younger one occasionally leaping onto a high ledge is exhausting. Not only are they well matched in the physical aspects of the play, but the chemistry between them is very apparent. When Number 1 has an epileptic fit, Number 2 (they’re not given names, only numbers) gently hugs him until it passes and the scene is incredibly moving. All in all it’s a virtuoso performance by them both.
Stillness descends with the arrival of Number 3. A quietly spoken, cigarette smoking, Stephen Rea appears when the upstage wall disappears to reveal the world outside. His stillness is in sharp contrast to what has gone before, as is his language. Poetically philosophical, he even croons a Chet Baker song following a cup of tea and a biscuit, carefully plucked from a Jenga like tower. Always eminently watchable, Stephen Rea is brilliantly cast as the be-suited enigmatic stranger and some of the funniest moments occur upon his arrival.
One of the saddest is when one of them, on the instructions of Number 3, ‘it is time for one of you to leave into your passing’, does just that. The upstage wall re-appears, the outside world disappears once again leaving the remaining actor alone and bereft.
There is more, so much more strangeness from Enda Walsh’s writing and direction, with echoes of Waiting for Godot mixed with Under Milk Wood. It is a true theatrical experience and one that I thoroughly enjoyed.