Anyone who complains that theatre is an elitist, rarefied or even downright dull genre, should go see Enda Walsh’s, Misterman, and blush in shame. This madcap, one-man show is heart-pounding stuff and generates the type of thumping excitement that only theatre can muster. If Enda Walsh’s Disco Pigs first introduced us to Cillian Murphy’s acting talents, then ‘Misterman’ shows us Murphy at the absolute height of his powers. And, christ, does he reach heavenly heights with this blisteringly fierce performance.
You’d think the Cottlesloe would’ve been the natural National Theatre space for a one-man show, but Walsh’s play, and Murphy’s performance, easily fill the yawning Lyttleton stage. Jamie Barton’s set resembles an abandoned warehouse, which feels empty – darkness shrouding its great depth – but is also littered with props. Tape recorders are strewn everywhere and their presence reminds us of one of Walsh’s principal sources of inspiration, Beckett. Indeed, there’s a raised platform with an isolated tape recorder, that could’ve been pulled straight from Krapp’s Last Tape. But, surrounding this platform, are gaping shadows and a whole lot of crazy. This is Beckett but without the consummate restraint: it’s freer, darker and much more wild.
It is this creaking warehouse that Thomas Magill (Murphy) now calls home. Whether this warehouse is real or metaphorical is anyone’s guess but it’s all Magill has left. He once lived in a quaint, rural Irish town – Inishfree – but has since fled. Assisted by a stream of recordings and his own, volatile, narrative, Magill remembers the events that led him to this desolate, isolation.
Tirelessly and dogmatically, Thomas Magill re-enacts that fateful day, which forced him to leave his home, his mother and his dad’s graveyard. With dazzling skill and incredible speed, Murphy packs the stage with the colourful citizens of Inishfree. At first, Murphy’s righteous Magill sees only minor faults in his neighbours, as he duly notes down their sins in his little red book. But as the day wears on – and on and on – the citizens grow more obscure and grotesque. They start to blaze red, horns all but poking from their proud, empty heads. Magill discovers that his only ally – and potential recruit to his religious crusade – actually likes to leer at sexy calendars. He realises that a friendly cafe-owner is really a dirty whore and that even angels have devillish insides.
As these sins begin to overshadow even the saintliest of citizens, the warehouse starts to shudder and flicker, mimicking Magill’s confusion and anger. Rain pours from the ceiling. Odd little crucifixes flash up, initially comforting but quickly threatening. Thunder rumbles, lightning flashes and music, outside of Magill’s control, envelops everything. The effects grow bigger, madder and wilder, as Magill loses his grip on his story and his sanity.
Enda Walsh directs this play, which is perhaps why the stage actions and Magill’s emotional rhythms, are so perfectly in synch. This unravelling finally unleashes with an awesome final scene, which sees Magill attend a community dance. The stage effects run riot, no longer governed by a lost and broken Magill. A massive crystal ball starts spinning, its shards of light piercing the audience. Thumping music – so unlike the soothing choral music that accompanies Magill’s reflective, spiritual moments – all but punches Magill in the face, with its cold force. Even the microphone, which Magill clutches in his hand, wrestles out of his reach. He bellows and whispers at the stunned crowd – us – as the microphone dances about his mouth. Everything is turning against Magill and, as plastic wings sprout out of his back, it feels like they’re mocking him, with their futile promise of flight and faith.