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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
MISTERMAN
at the National (Lyttelton)

LOSING HIS MARBLES
By CLIVE HIRSCHHORN

  Cillian Murphy/ Ph: Catherine Ashmore

To avoid being overwhelmed by the vast expanse of the Lyttelton theatre, marginalised by the sheer clutter of its roll-call of props, and upstaged by the production’s many sound and lighting cues, Cillian Murphy runs, jumps, stands still and employs numerous voices in order to make his presence felt in Enda Walsh’s one-man show Misterman. He succeeds brilliantly, holding the stage by giving the kind of performance that wins awards and demands a standing ovation.
 
The character Murphy plays is a self-styled evangelist called Thomas Magill, and his pulpit is the small village of Inishfree, many of whose inhabitants are, according to Magill, debauched sinners whose godless ways have tarred their village with blasphemy and sin.
 
Trouble is, Thomas himself is not without his own dark side. A repressed, 30-something bachelor, he lives with his widowed mother and seems to spend much of his time in an industrial-type, multi-level warehouse whose bric-a-brac includes several functional tape-recorders, neon crucifixes and a vast array of junk that could conceivably even contain a kitchen sink. He has a decidedly violent streak, savagely illustrated when he kicks and batters to death a villager’s pesky dog and, in the play’s climax, murders a young woman he has fantasised into a heavenly angel.
 
The action takes place in the course of a single day, during which Thomas plays back numerous tape-recordings of conversations he has had with a motley collection of faithless village locals – some real, some imaginary – his main purpose, on all occasions, being to deliver unto his erring flock the word of God.
 
While Murphy’s tour de force powers the pistons of this flamboyant monologue, turning Misterman into a compellingly physical piece of theatre, emotionally Walsh’s play fails to engage. The bottom line is that his protagonist is an out-and-out nutcase, a dysfunctional fundamentalist with whom it is impossible to engage. There isn’t even a back-story to indicate how, why or when he found God.
 
As a rule I find insanity, as opposed to eccentricity or quirkiness, hard to convey convincingly or with compassion. Nothing Thomas says or does contradicts this, and spending an uninterrupted 90 minutes in his addled company without recourse to an interval drink, is not my idea of a stimulating evening in the theatre.
 
There is no denying, though, the skill of Murphy’s star turn, the visual impact of Jamie Vartan’s set, Adam Silverman’s effective lighting, Gregory Clarke’s inventive sound design, and direction by the author that keeps pace with his creation’s colourful motor-mouth. I just wish the play offered some nourishing food for thought.

 


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