Imagining the real
Life, death and a good deal in between are up for grabs in Enda Walsh’s wildly energetic “Ballyturk”. The second in the Abbey Theatre’s double bill of Walsh’s work, “Ballyturk,” a Landmark Productions and Galway International Arts Festival’s co-production with The Abbey Theatre, feels like a rollicking, metaphysical romp where Beckett meets bedlam, meets children’s TV, meets David Lynch. Wild, zany, dark and hilarious, “Ballyturk’s” march through the mayhem of Walsh’s imagination boldly goes where other scripts fear to go. And when it gets there it is very, very good indeed. But when it misses the mark, it can be something of a struggle.
Two men, trapped - in a room, routine, their fears, their hopes, the past - tell tales of the residents of the town of “Ballyturk”. A sort of surreal, unsexy, Irish version of Twin Peaks, “Ballyturk” is where the bizarre hides the instantly recognisable in plain sight. Five footed bunnies with feelings of foreboding, or buzzing flies hidden in clocks, become part of the daily fabric where both men rise, fling darts at drawings of “Ballyturk” residents and dance to a classic 80’s soundtrack. Beyond the walls conversations are overheard while within them stories are told. That is, until ‘they’ arrive, sexily wreathed in cigarette smoke and mystery. A third wheel, or a spoke in the wheel, they hang around, talk a lot, deliver an ultimatum and leave just as mysteriously. In the end, it might be an act of hope, it might all be pointless, but it’s rarely, if ever, without intrigue.
Theatrically and visually compelling, “Ballyturk’s” frenetic energy and pace channels something of the slapstick routine with that of children’s TV presenters wildly clowning around. You may not always know where it’s going, but that’s okay. Indeed, it’s when it attempts to articulate the mysterious that “Ballyturk” loses much of its power, as well as much of the audience for a time. Following, arguably, one of the most intriguing entrances ever, the frenetic pace and energy dissipates as “Ballyturk” shifts from being a highly visual, theatrical experience to being a spoken one, one where everyone simply stands around. So pronounced is this shift, it almost requires a deliberate act of concentration to stay tuned in to what is, essentially, an overly long monologue. One far less interesting than the actions which preceded it, and one that doesn’t live long in the memory.
With “Ballyturk”, Walsh the director just about hedges it over Walsh the playwright, even if, at times, you wish the director had taken the playwright aside and had a serious word about the monologue. As with “Arlington,” Walsh, once again, leans heavily on the extraordinarily brilliant team of designer Jamie Vartan, lighting designer Adam Silverman, and sound designer Helen Atkinson, with composer Teho Teardo, yet again, delivering a stunning soundtrack. If “Ballyturk’s” three strong cast appear to exude a little nervousness at times, it might have to do with the ghosts of Cillian Murphy and Stephen Rea hovering in the memory. But Tadgh Murphy has nothing to fear, being utterly engaging throughout. Nor does the excellent Olwen Fouéré, who, if risking being typecast as mysterious beings – Death at Intervals springs to mind - breaks up the all-boys club with her distinctive presence and energy suggesting some interesting interpretative possibilities. But energy, par excellence, belongs to Mikel Murfi who is utterly and irresistibly delightful throughout, delivering yet another exceptional performance.
If “Ballyturk” risks losing its potency by trying to talk about it, it’s still more potent than many other works out there. At its best, “Ballyturk” is theatrical poetry steeped in sense, nonsense, image and metaphor. Rich in interpretive possibilities, it won’t yield all its secrets on a first visit. But it will provide lots of laughter, much to think about and, at its best, a uniquely powerful theatrical experience.
“Ballyturk” by Enda Walsh, a Landmark Productions and Galway International Arts Festival’s co-production in association with the Abbey Theatre, runs at The Abbey Theatre until March 11th
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