Landmark Productions and Galway International Arts Festival have brought Enda Walsh’s infinitely dark Ballyturk to London at the National Theatre. Be prepared to be psychologically and emotionally rocked — but with plenty of craic along the way.
Much of the opening 30 minutes of Ballyturk is hilarious. It’s utterly off-the-wall and at first almost impossible to follow. Cillian Murphy and Mikel Murfi weave together slapstick, farce and physical theatre, bringing to life an energetic array of witty characterisations. Their on-stage energy and dynamism is boundless. It feels a bit like Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood at times, or perhaps a darker, psychotic Irish younger brother. We never find out the pair’s names — they’ve forgotten what they are.
It soon becomes clear that there is no way out of the room on stage. It’s both a physical prison, and the entire world for these people — life outside is reduced to a series of role-plays, with words endlessly crafted and repeated as the only way to pass the time. Despite its grubby starkness, with walls covered by dream-like childish drawings and haphazard second-hand furniture, there’s often a cinematic quality brought to the stage, pulled together by eerie, stirring music, stunning lighting and the sheer magnetism of Murphy and Murfi.
Stephen Rea’s arrival destroys everything you might have thought about this little world up until that point. Rea is understated, captivating and ultimately the darkest character of all. As the play climaxes, the world around Murphy and Murfi, and the world inside their own heads becomes clearer. And with this clarity comes the horror of their reality.
With twists that left us physically shivering, Ballyturk raises uncomfortable questions — are we more than the sum of our thoughts, or are we ultimately prisoners of our own minds? Leaving the auditorium hurriedly for the openness of the South Bank, we’d never valued our freedom — or sanity — quite so much.
Ballyturk is at the National Theatre until October 11. Tickets £15-45. Londonist saw this production on a complimentary ticket.