Review: Misterman, National Theatre

“Do you know what I’d do if I didn’t have my senses?”

There’s something to be said for a set design that can take your breath away at a theatre that one has visited many, many times, and Jamie Vartan has achieved it here with his cavernous transformation of the Lyttelton’s stage for Enda Walsh’s Misterman. It’s an effect to take in for yourselves as the safety curtain descends, so I won’t ‘spoil’ it, but it really is excellently done. And given that Walsh has written a one-man show, for friend and previous collaborator Cillian Murphy, it is a brave move but one that largely pays off as Murphy produces a performance that more than fills the space.

Thomas Magill is a disturbed young man from the small Irish town of Inishfree who is seeking sanctuary in an isolated warehouse for reasons unknown. Hyped up on vast amounts of Fanta and Jammie Dodgers that literally fall from the sky, he’s a would-be preacher who sees angels, a tortured soul who can’t deal with real life, a storyteller who takes us through the assorted characters of the local villagers whose morality, or lack thereof, he is determined to correct, as it emerges he’s telling us about the events of a particular single day.

Cillian Murphy – an actor whom I’ve never seen onstage but with whom I once wandered around Wilton’s Music Hall watching Elliot Cowan take his clothes off – is often extraordinary as the nerdish Thomas. Channelling the fierce intensity of a man who truly seems on the edge as he whirls hammers into the air and plates of food against the wall, but also skipping deftly through the imitations of many of the hypocritical godless souls he is raging against, Murphy rarely lets the energy slip even as Walsh’s writing extends its reach perhaps a little too far.

Gregory Clarke’s sound design also qualifies as a thing of wonder. Thomas has recorded many of the conversations he’s had with people and so the monologue is frequently broken up by bursts of these recordings, sometimes startlingly so, as we come to realise that the version of events that is being relayed to us has very much been edited by our narrator and his reliability is called ever more into suspect.

But for all the awe that the creatives inspired, and the technical brilliance of Murphy’s acting and movement, I have to say Misterman left me rather emotionally untouched. The picture of Ireland presented by Walsh feels a little dated but more importantly was too fragmented for my liking in terms of building up to where the piece goes. The slow build of foreboding is continually interrupted which consequently undermined the integrity of the final twists of Thomas’s journey.

That said, I just don’t think Enda Walsh and I are destined to get on – I found Penelope extremely hard-going – and so whereas it just isn’t my cup of tea, I can see why people will like this.

Running time: 90 minutes
Photo: Catherine Ashmore

Programme cost: £3
Booking until 28th May

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