God, redemption, religion, the forces of good and evil. It is hard to tackle these none too light topics in a manner which doesn’t become cumbersome. Peter Cadwell did it in The Fighter’s Ballad, but confronts the bull head-on – the film is no laughing matter. Enda Walsh’s Misterman deals with similar ideas of Right and Wrong, albeit couched in the very Irish and Catholic setting of Innisfree – a small isle lagooned in the Emerald Isle.
Whether or not one could call Misterman a comedy is difficult to say. Cillian Murphy’s slapstick careering about the stage in veritable circus style, hurling props, scrambling eggs and spraying the stage with his saliva lend Walsh’s production a humour which is distinct contrast to the play’s grave messages and violent ending.
Murphy is the only actor but this is easily forgotten amid the colossal set – which extends some twenty metres from the audience – the jumble of paraphernalia that populates Holy Fool Thomas Magill’s decrepit warehouse dwelling, feats of lighting that would put New Year’s Eve to shame, sound design on a huge and innovative scale and Murphy’s stellar rendering of Thomas and the ten-odd other inhabitants of Innisfree he meets as he pops out to the shops to pick his Mammy up some Jammy Dodgers.
Walsh has created an experience as well as a play. The imagination is allowed to run wild – A= myriad of gaps is left for us to fill in. Aesthetically it is glorious.
The play’s premise and flow I found to be patchy and at times unfathomable. And it’s deeper and more religious passages were a bit too tedious for this lapsed Catholic. But Walsh’s script had moments of rapid wit and jocularity that were brought to life wonderfully by Murphy, who gives a startling high-octane level of performance for the complete ninety minutes.
One wonders whether Walsh has been inspired and influenced by Philip Ridley’s earlier plays. Misterman, written in 1999, is a surreal and messy depiction of reality where the sublime is twisted up with the violent and a young person lives in squalor and his own inner world. Jamie Vartan’s epic set design certainly recalls those used in recent productions of Ridley’s plays Mercury Fur and The Pitchfork Disney. But the light of heart and stomach need fear not: Misterman is most definitely not a Ridley play.
Misterman runs until 28 May at the National Theatre (Lyttleton). Tickets start at £5 for 16-25 year olds.