In Middletown, created and performed by Mikel Murfi. Photo credit:Agata Stoinska
If COVID facilitated anything positive, it allowed time for theatre makers to take stock and reflect. Something the Gate Theatre appears to have done. Making its first foray into live performance before an audience since COVID, the Gate finds its latest show operating out of the back of a van. Serving up Mikel Murfi's marvellous modern fairytale of fresh starts, In Middletown. A play where one man does nothing much, goes nowhere really, and very little actually happens. And it is the most glorious nothing and nowhere you're likely to enjoy this year. If you seriously wondered if online could compete with live theatre, wonder no more.
A tale of a middling man's mid-life crisis, Murfi's old world masterpiece sees The Gate reinvigorate Fit Up theatre for the 21st century. A tale in which a man, for no apparent reason, decides to leave his home, his livelihood, and go live a life of solitude in the back of his van. Doing only what he feels like doing, like tending his bees, and travelling nowhere by way of roads to anywhere. Pulling objects from his coat in a manner to leave Harpo Marx green with envy, or playing imaginary games with his plant and fridge, day by day he gains a little more by holding on to a little less. Seeking psychic breakthrough or suffering mental breakdown, the wall between redemption and madness proves paper thin as he strips life and soul back to minimalists basics. Searching for that nothing we all leave behind, looking to keep his spirit level.
In Middletown, created and performed by Mikel Murfi. Photo credit: Agata Stoinska
Like the inimitable Seamus O'Rourke, Murfi has carved a niche in recent years as a one man, rural storyteller. His delightful The Man In The Woman's Shoes, and its overly sentimental doppelgänger in the attic, I Hear You And Rejoice attracting huge acclaim. It might seems he's following in his own footsteps with In Middletown, marrying the quirky and rural with his inestimable physical comedy. And in a sense that's true. Yet In Middletown is whole other level entirely. Embracing a Pirandello Six Characters...style narration, there's complexities and subtleties abounding adding depth and texture. Captured and conveyed by Murfi's impeccable physical performance evoking the silent comedy greats, and enriched by Sabine Dargent's clever set. Not that you need to understand the complexities. The chickens alone are sure to get you in the mood.
Less Nomadland so much as Wanderly Wagon for grown ups, In Middletown is less a story so much as an encounter with a truly unique soul. One who marries the lunacy of a Tommy Tiernan with the laconic wisdom of a Michael Harding, and the soul stirring passion of a John Moriarty. Offering a tale as wise and deep as it is funny and heartfelt. Less than two minutes in and you know you're in the presence of a master. One telling a masterful tale deserving of becoming a much loved classic. For In Middletown is sure to travel by virtue of being Murfi's best solo work to date. A brave move putting on a play advocating solitude and a pared back life immediately after lockdown gets lifted. A lunatic move. But one that pays off handsomely. Not to be missed.
In Middletown, created and performed by Mikel Murfi and produced by the Gate Theatre is on tour at the following venues:
22nd to 24th July: Pavilion Theatre, Dun Laoghaire
27th July: Town Hall Theatre, Galway
29th July: Glór, Ennis
5th August: Lime Tree Theatre, Limerick
7th August: Dunamaise Theatre, Portlaoise
10th August: Backstage Theatre, Longford
12th August: An Grianán, Letterkenny
For more information visit The Gate Theatre where booking links to relevant venues are available.