Sur­re­al­ism, emo­tion and an evil bunny

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Culture - By Mark Brown


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.

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