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Posts Tagged ‘Cillian Murphy’

This is the fourth collaboration between writer / director Enda Walsh and performer Cillian Murphy, the last two shows seen in London at the NT’s Lyttleton Theatre. The full house is testament to Murphy’s pulling power since TV’s Peaky Blinders, but as it happens its both a deeply moving play and a virtuoso performance, and a welcome debut by new theatre company Wayward Productions.

Based on Max Porter’s debut novel, with a nod to Ted Hughes’ poems, it’s a study of grief. A widowed father is struggling to come to terms with the death of his wife and to bring up his two sons. He conjures up an imaginary crow to help him on his journey, while his sons are largely left to their own devices. We’re inside his head experiencing his grief with him as Will Duke projects text and images onto Jamie Varton’s set, and a visceral soundtrack and soundscape by Teho Teardo & Helen Atkinson create an extraordinary tense atmosphere.

Murphy’s very athletic performance is a real tour-de-force, transforming from Dad to Crow by donning a black floor-length hoodie, with synthesised vocals aiding the transformation. As he progresses through his grief, his affection for his sons, beautifully played by Taighen O’Callaghan & Adam Pemberton on the night I went, comes through, and it ends with a sense of a completed emotional journey for all three.

Technically, it’s a triumph. As words are scrawled onto screens, the sound gets you on edge. We meet his deceased wife through projections of her life. As with the more Beckettian Misterman, which I much admired, and Ballyturk, which I didn’t, the stage seems vast and is fully used, and indeed roughed up. You are immersed in Dad’s world, feeling his pain, in what is a surprisingly poetic evening.

A unique piece that disturbs but ultimately satisfies.

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Playwright Enda Walsh has always been a bit, well more than a bit, Beckettian, but here he has ‘created’ (you can’t really say ‘wrote’) an odd, absurd, surreal ‘piece’ (you can’t really say ‘play’) that’s fully fledged Beckett, in spirit if not restraint. It was a very long 100 minutes and having invested that much of my life in it I’m disinclined to invest a lot more reviewing it. I’ve seen a handful of Walsh’s plays since Disco Pigs in 1997 and it really is a trajectory much like Beckett; diminishing returns. I think this might be my last.

The only reason for seeing it is two virtuoso performances from Cillian Murphy and Mikel Murfi – but it comes at a price. For the first 20-30 mins I was intrigued and fascinated, but that soon turned to irritation and then to boredom and eventually to fantasies of a gin & tonic in the comfort of my own home. For some inexplicable reason, though I had not connected with the piece emotionally, the conclusion was like a wave of sadness blowing from the Lyttleton stage.

Two men race around the stage dressing and undressing, throwing things (and themselves) around, making a mess, uttering seemingly meaningless dialogue and generally getting on your tits. They appeared to be in some death waiting room and we eventually meet the grim reaper, Stephen Rea, a cool-as-cucumber chain smoker who appears to suggest only one of them come forward. Ballyturk seems to be a place outside – we hear voices of the residents, there appear to be drawings of them on the back wall (which get darts thrown at them) and our two protagonists may be impersonating them occasionally. Who knows? Who cares?

Jamie Vartan’s set includes mysteries like inaccessible cupboards and draws, a cuckoo clock with a life of its own, a kitchenette in one corner and a shower(ette) in the other and a back wall that lifts and lowers to reveal Stephen Rea’s character in his world. It gets well and truly roughed up. Walsh also directs, so there’s no-one else to blame. The two lead actors give it their all, but for me that isn’t enough.

If this is what it’s like inside an Irish brain, I’m glad I’m Welsh!

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Last night I described Enda Walsh’s play as ‘Beckett on acid’. It’s the story of Thomas Magill, a loner in Inisfree, sometime evangelist, who converses with characters from the village (and his dead parents!), all of whom are on tape or created by Thomas in conversations with himself. It’s a stage picture of an extraordinary character rather than a play, but it’s riveting.

Cillian Murphy’s tour de force really is something special. He occupies the vast Lyttleton space (which seems wider and is deeper than it has ever been) with an athleticism that is breathtaking. He runs, throws things and rants. He is accompanied by all manner of sounds and lights with the stage a performer itself (this is virtuoso technical staging). You can’t take your eyes off him, dripping in sweat, inhabiting his character like you rarely see.

I’m not one for monologues, but this is an exception as it doesn’t conform to the static stereotype. It’s a thrillingly dramatic 90 minutes which you’d be mad to miss.

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