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Published 17 September 2014

What’s it all about?

Cor, that’s a tough one. On the surface it’s about two men – with numbers instead of names – who have been cooped up in a single room, seemingly for the majority of their lives. They pass their time by reflecting on the goings-on in the fictional town of Ballyturk, impersonating its inhabitants, dressing each other in various costumes and working up a sweat on a makeshift exercise circuit. You’d be forgiven for thinking it sounds a tiny bit random. There is, of course, a bigger question about the futility and absurdity of human existence nestled within it that even Samuel Beckett would approve of.

Who’s in it?

Last seen singlehandedly commanding the same National Theatre space in Enda Walsh’s Misterman, Cillian Murphy reunites with the playwright alongside a couple of companions, Mikel Murfi and Stephen Rea. Murphy is on fine form, stretching his vocal cords from the high-pitched squeals of a bird to the deep guttural sound he uses to evoke foreboding gloom. On top of the actor’s vocal range, the physicality of his performance is second to none. He seamlessly masters the moves choreographed by Kate Prince for the show’s up-tempo, music-blasting moments and is disturbingly convincing as he convulses into a state of near unconsciousness. Murfi matches his namesake’s vigour in the calibre and versatility of his own performance, which at one point involves embodying nearly a score of characters in a matter of seconds. In contrast to the comic duo’s manic portrayals, Rea, as character number 3, brings relative calm and a poetic philosophy to proceedings.

What should I look out for?

So many things: an edible game of Jenga, the line “I won’t be out-bittered by a lemon, Bertie”, and the tale of a rabbit’s shopping trip and subsequent demise.

In a nutshell?

The incredible Cillian Murphy and Mikel Murfi bring comedy chaos to the Lyttelton Theatre in a Beckett-inspired show that confounds and amuses.

Who was in the press night crowd?

We spotted a trio of Olivier Award-winning ladies: Lesley Manville, Zoë Wanamaker and Sheila Hancock.

What’s being said on Twitter?

‏@polyg: Ballyturk Is like having an existential crisis while having a stroke. In a good way.

@NTS_Neil: #Ballyturk @NationalTheatre a dazzling,blurring thing of beauty,stunningly performed.Hats off to producers,@GalwayIntArts #AnnClark @PCC62

Will I like it?

It’s more a case of will you understand it than will you like it. Thankfully the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Even if you struggle to comprehend what Walsh is getting at during these existentialist, Beckett-inspired 90-minutes, the physical comedy of the piece, which the playwright has directed himself, will ensure that you’re entertained for its duration. From records flying through the air and trousers being dropped to choreographed dance and fitness routines, there is more than enough for your eyes and funny bone to feast on.

Ballyturk is playing until 11 October. You can book tickets through the National Theatre’s website.


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