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Published 19 April 2012

Cillian Murphy made an excellent villain in Red Eye and a striking teenager in Disco Pigs. In Misterman he is convincing as a host of characters, including a cursing drunkard, a bunion-riddled old woman and a tea-spilling flirt.

The latter are just a few of the inhabitants of Inishfree and, in this one-man show written by Enda Walsh, Murphy takes on different voices, mannerisms and personalities to portray every single one of them. Although they may not be comparable on the surface, the people of Inishfree all have one thing in common; they are sinners… at least in the eyes of Thomas Magill.

The National’s Lyttelton theatre adopts a spooky demeanour for the staging of Thomas’s story. Set in a dark junk-filled warehouse –  which contains everything but the kitchen sink, and also serves as one when dirty pans and dishes, among other things, are erratically hurled across the stage – the new extended version of Walsh’s tragedy presents the lonely and devoutly religious Thomas on an extraordinary quest.

Unlike the Innisfree in Yeats’s poem, Thomas’s home town is not the peaceful paradise he would like it to be. But he has a vision, a utopian vision, to change Inishfree for good. As if sent by God, Thomas embarks on creating his own Eden, keeping a record of everyone’s faults in an attempt to improve God’s original creations and claim his deserved place in heaven.

While, for Thomas, the boundaries between good and evil become increasingly blurred as he descends further into a state of alarming madness, for the audience, the fine line between reality and what exists in Thomas’s disturbed imagination becomes ever more difficult to distinguish.

Tape recordings reminiscent of Samuel Beckett, Gregory Clarke’s unsettling sound design and Adam Silverman’s cleverly executed lighting are invaluable in telling the disturbing tale of Thomas’s tormented soul. Nothing is more poignant, though, than Murphy’s solo performance which, as we learn of the drastic measures that Thomas took in an attempt to fulfil his obsessive vision, finally reaches its chilling conclusion.


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