Surrealism, emotion and an evil bunny
By Mark Brown Ballyturk
Tron Theatre, Glasgow Four Stars
Until October 20
Ballyturk, by the extraordinary Irish dramatist Enda Walsh, is a bleakly and brilliantly humorous play. Directed for the Tron with admirable precision and balance by Andy Arnold, it portrays two nameless men (called simply 1 and 2 in the script) who are, seemingly, trapped in an existential limbo.
Confined to a dog-eared room (which is splendidly envisioned by designer Michael Taylor), the pair construct and perform scenes from the lives of the people of the imagined town of Ballyturk. This little conurbation could be the village of Llareggub from Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, if it was relocated to Ireland and conceived by someone who’s tripping on acid.
If Thomas seems present in Walsh’s phantasmagoria, one could be forgiven for wondering if the great modernist dramatists Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco had collaborated in the writing of the play from beyond the grave. The dismal and affecting co-dependency of 1 and 2 is pure Beckett.
Their seemingly arbitrary and surreal storytelling (including a tale about a rabbit with curiously human characteristics known as the “malevolent bunny”), is punctuated by voices heard through the walls and explosions of pop music from the 1980s. It all appears like the inspired, absurdist invention of a 21st-century Ionesco.
When Ballyturk made its world premiere at the Galway International Arts Festival, 1 and 2 were played by the outstanding actors Cillian Murphy and Mikel Murfi. Arnold (who, entirely reasonably, nods to the existential abstraction of the piece by playing it in Scottish, rather than Irish, accents) has secured the services of the talented double act of Simon Donaldson and Grant O’Rourke.
Donaldson is fabulously manic as the terror-stricken 1, who engages in the repetition and variation of the men’s rituals with a scorching urgency. O’Rourke’s performance, larger-thanlife, hilarious in its characterisations and reverberating in its pathos, is truly virtuosic.
In the genuinely emotive conclusion to the play, a character known only as 3, arrives, suited, booted and sucking menacingly on a cigarette. Played by the fabulous Stephen Rea in the premiere production, the role is feminised interestingly and fruitfully here by the fine Wendy Seager. The choice she offers the wretched friends makes for a truly powerful denouement to a beautifully constructed production.