Mr Andrew has booked this and although Mr Phil is never really sure what he’s going to see he felt like Mr Grumpy, Mr Silly and Mr Dyslexic rolled into one amorphous Day-glo shape when he realised that Mr Enda Walsh‘s play was a gritty monologue and nothing at all to do with Roger Hargreaves’ popular doodles.
Now the Whingers have given Aunt Enda a fairly wide berth since The Walworth
Fiasco Farce almost four years ago but the lure of the very talented Mr Cillian Murphy was sufficiently strong to persuade the Whingers to rather graciously give the Irish playwright another go and really we do wonder if we weren’t paying attention last time because his 1999 play Misterman is practially a compendium of WEW theatrical must-haves:
It is all performed in a breathless, interval-free 90 minutes, there is food consumed on stage (cheesecake), working plumbing (a stand pipe), rain, Jammy Dodgers, copious amounts of expectorate, a large tub of Swarfega (a first for us but Aunt Enda is clearly way ahead of us in some respects), a town drunk and Doris Day singing “Everybody Loves A Lover“.
But we’re running away with ourselves. Mr Murphy is one Thomas Magill living – or perhaps trapped – in a highly dilapidated, disused factory space or depot (design Jamie Vartan). He’s a self-proclaimed evangelist-cum-Messiah determined to rid his town of Inishfree of sin.
Surrounded by decrepit reel-to-reel tape players he plays tape recordings (Mr Niall Buggy and Miss Eileen Walsh among others) of characters from his life, chatting to them or acting out both sides of conversations with his mother, various locals and people he’s encountered whilst conducting a cacophony of his own edited sound effects. There’s more than a touch of Mr Beckett with the emphasis happily on Krapp rather than crap.
The National’s website boasts a “tour-de-force solo performance” (it has already been seen in Galway and New York) and for once we would not dare to disagree. The phrase might have been coined for him: Mr Murphy steers a dangerously manic path between highly amusing amiability and chilling horror. One might even call him Rylance-ian. There is also a great deal of running about the vast Lyttelton stage in three dimensions.
Maybe everything is happening in his cluttered mind, all part of his madness as the mundane jostles with the biblical in his head. Anyhoo, life seems to have left Thomas an unbroken Jammie Dodger short of a picnic yet, despite some of his actions he never stops being mesmerising and strangely endearing.
Aunt Enda toys with language in a most entertaining fashion throughout and also masochistically directs requiring all manner of things from Mr Murphy which, if he didn’t keep sloshing liquids around and fiddling with the electrics, we would say he delivers most electrifyingly. An audience member, clearly caught up in the magic that is theatre inhaled in shock at his disregard to health and safety. You would be unwise to try this at home.
Without giving too much away we were distracted to wonder if anyone gets to eat the broken Jammie Dodgers post-show each night. We say give them to the person doing extraordinary work with the sound cues. Phil remembers his local grocery shop selling broken biscuits from a barrel and they were always considered a treat in those days.
And the sound design by Gregory Clarke is nothing short of brilliant and not in the Olivier-winning sense of Matilda (FFS why? We couldnt’ hear the words).
What was it all about? We have really only the muddiest of notions, but that didn’t stop us enjoying the craic and in some ways Aunt Enda was saving the most audacious until last: for quite astonishingly the finale involved a cascade of balloons (one of Phil’s premier league theatrical bete noirs) which didn’t send Phil off the deep end at all because these balloons were actually balloons, not lame metaphors for something else (as far as we could tell).
Both Mister Whingers emerged rather impressed, ever so slightly exhausted and somewhat in awe of Mister Murphy’s ability to work the Lyttelton barn .