Review: Ballyturk, National Theatre

“It feels like we might be less than we were in a place we don’t know now”

Set in “no time, no place”, with characters merely named 1,2, and 3, and doing marvellous things with yellow jumpers, talc, 7 inch records and a pile of chocolate bourbons and pink wafers, you’ll understand that Ballyturk really is the type of show you need to see to truly understand. Enda Walsh directs his own play fresh from premiering it in Galway this summer and it is a breathless delight, although through the piercing humour, one catches glimpses of an absolute bleakness.

I could talk about Kate Prince’s energetic choreography which calls to mind a hyped-up Morecambe and Wise, or the endless surprises hidden in Jamie Vartan’s design which capitalises on the height and depth of the Lyttelton Theatre, the powerfully evocative compositions from Teho Teardo which combines 80s delights like ABC and Yazoo with moodier self-penned work and the extraordinary textures of Helen Atkinson’s sound design which brings the town of Ballyturk to life.

But it is a town 1 and 2 can never visit, mainly because it is an invention of theirs to pass the time but also because they appear to be sealed in their own little world, all all-purpose room from which they cannot escape. So their rituals gain more importance, whether keeping fit, impersonating the townsfolk of Ballyturk or musing on the nature of existence. This final point is thrown into stark relief with the unexpected arrival of 3 with something of a Sophie’s Choice decision.

The real delight comes less in the philosophising though but in the comic exuberance of what comes before. Cillian Murphy emerges as an unexpectedly brilliant comedic actor and Mikel Murfi’s clowning is second to none, the sheer energy onstage is at times breath-taking, incredible as well as hilarious/ Stephen Rea’s later arrival shows the enormous coolness of what can be achieved with just a silhouette and his poetic non-sequiturs bring a real ponderous depth that is moving.

The play does ultimately feel a tad unbalanced though – the comic extremes with which it opens aren’t ever matched in the dramatic stretches later on (Murphy’s overlong speech with his eyes covered felt particularly guilty) so one ends up feeling Walsh could have spread the energy a little more effectively either in his direction or his writing. But there’s much to enjoy here, not least in a play that even at its most impenetrable is entirely watchable.

Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Photo: Patrick Redmond
Booking until 11th October

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