Review – Ballyturk, National Theatre

Tuesday 16 September 2014

488363953_640It was only yesterday that Phil was reminiscing about theatrical mishaps and already he has another to add to his list.

In Enda Walsh‘s strange and possibly existential (if Phil really understood the word) Ballyturk (also directed by Walsh) Cillian Murphy* has a scene where he energetically smashes vinyl singles by hurling them against the back wall of the set (brilliantly choreographed to the tune of each record). One hit at such a perfect angle that instead of shattering it ricocheted and flew like a sharp-edged Frisbee the depth of the Lyttelton stage and out into the auditorium over the ducking heads of patrons in about six rows of the stalls. Since Health and Safety no longer allow sweets to be thrown to kiddies at a panto these days we feel they must be informed immediately.

As they took their seats in the stalls, Phil’s companion for the evening muttered “I have no idea what this play is about”. Ninety minutes later neither he nor Phil were much wiser.

Well, we have our theories, but this is not why we now issue a SPOILER ALERT.

Murphy, Mikel Murfi and Stephen Rea, play characters ‘1’ 2′ and ‘3’ respectively. The first two are seemingly innocent chappies who exist in a strange room (design Jamie Vartan) that may or may not be Purgatory. It is full of cupboards at various heights up the walls and is decorated with scribbles of maps and characters from an Irish town Ballyturk. Are they lovers or brothers or just mates? Does the persistent cuckoo clock imply it is an institution? Do the numbers for their characters nod to The Prisoner TV series and suggest the could be captives? One must just go with it and decide it probably doesn’t really matter.

‘1’ and ‘2’ fling themselves into their daily rituals – sometimes performed to a backdrop of songs like ABC’s “The Look of Love” – at a manically breakneck speed, dressing, undressing, shaving, eating, exercising, showering, covering themselves with talcum powder and bursting red balloons (balloons !!), that’s when they’re not playing characters from their (presumably imagined) town or eavesdropping on them. ‘1’ is prone to climbing the walls, perching like a bird and pretending he’s an old woman. Eventually they are visited by ‘3’ who is treated to a game of Jenga made from a tower of biscuits. He treats them to a song and presents them with an impossible choice. Perhaps ‘1’ and ‘2’ are both called Sophie?

It’s occasionally quite funny – though perhaps not quite as funny as you’d wish it to be –  and played with winning sincerity by all, especially the two extraordinarily energetic Murphys/Murfis.

We couldn’t make head nor tail of the closing moments. Reincarnation? Fritzel? Rolf Harris? But we must admit that Dame Enda (as he is known in Whinger Towers) has a formidably impressive way with words and a deliciously splendid taste in music.

Imagine Under Milk Wood or an Ingmar Berman film written by Samuel Beckett on a nitrous oxide high, directed by David Lynch and percolated through Rick Mayall’s Bottom.



Another theatrical mishap recollection:

A favourite collective memory in the Whingers’ history was at a performance of Love Song (which also starred Mr Murphy) when Neve Campbell fluffed her lines. Rather than cover the moment she curled up with her head in her hands and spat out the (unscripted) line “oh shit!” The Whingers were of course in seventh heaven. Their centre front row seats afforded a perfect view of the spectacle, no Dame Judi utter professionalism here. The Whingers salute Ms Campbell for giving them a memory far beyond the play itself. Sublime.


10 Responses to “Review – Ballyturk, National Theatre”

  1. johnmmorrison7 Says:

    My thoughts exactly. Misterman with Cillian Murphy on his own was fascinating. This looks like a bit of a repeat. If there is another play by Dame Enda I shall give it a miss.

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  3. I enjoyed the play a lot but yes I also left with the ‘what the hell did I just watch’ feeling. The acting was top notch.

  4. Michael Says:

    Saw this last night and was astonished!

    I think my fifty year love affair with live theatre has been terminated by this dire event.

    Banal, pretentious drivel , badly acted (indication, two dimensional, shallow) with the directorial intelligence of a first year undergraduate, might, in a kindly way, sum it up.

    Samuel Beckett or James Joyce this is not and it does not even belong in the same universe as their genius.

    This was a truly painful experience that has put a big question mark over my theatre going and puts into question why on earth public money should be used to subsidise such tosh.

    I am a retired professional actor, sometime director and writer with over forty years theatre experience.

    I could go on and on but will leave off as this production is stultifyingly boring enough without me adding to the worlds pain!

  5. Graham Says:

    Really enjoyed Michael\s comments since they echoed my own sentiments about this.

    I attended the talk by the author and in retrospect am stunned by the admiration much of the audience expressed.

    My chief complaint was the lack of an interval to give one the chance of getting away.

  6. Boz Says:

    The acting was amazing. But it was “bring along your own interpretation week” and I was just so tired after work that I really could not muster the energy.

  7. Mike Says:

    Just watched it tonight and am glad to see that I am not the only one bewildered and disappointed by this self-indulgent tripe. Although Murphy’s acting was at times impressive, the totally lack of any coherent plot ultimately rendered the performance just annoying.

  8. Russell Says:

    Saw it tonight and thought it was wonderful, wonderfully acted, very funny and achingly sad. Seems what works for one person doesn’t work for everyone.

  9. Andrew Says:

    Some of the above comments and a couple of the broadsheet reviews, (Observer, Telegraph),remind me of the frequent response to contemporary art.
    “But what is it?”
    “What’s it supposed to mean?”
    Although I’m anxious to avoid any nominations for Pseuds’
    Corner, I really think there are some plays that need to be approached in the same way as contemporary art. Let it wash over you and don’t feel it is a puzzle that must be solved.
    People who left “The Walworth Farce” at the interval didn’t really give it a fair chance. Like all three Enda Walsh plays I’ve seen, there is an element of deliberate confusion at the start which I feel is resolved by the end. Maybe that explains why “Misterman” and “Ballyturk” have no interval.
    I thoroughly enjoyed “Ballyturk” and felt the acting, set design and music/sound were excellent.
    Wouldn’t it be boring if we all liked the same plays. I felt in the minority when I gave a big thumbs down to “The Drowned Man” but “Ballyturk” ticked all my boxes.

  10. W Says:

    Can’t anyone list more of the songs they played? I’ve had one stuck in my head for days that has the line “Don’t hang around”.

    Anyway I loved the play and thought the acting was sublime.

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