A PSYCHOTIC PUCKOON
Watching Enda Walsh’s surreal new 90-minuter, late star of the Galway festival, one reflection kept intruding: that there is, God save us, a dangerously fine and porous line between Beckettiana and bollocks. Not that the writing isn’t fine, swooping from small-town comedic observation to bleak philosophical uplands as the trapped characters confront mortality and terror within “the prison of the self”. Nor is there a single thing wrong with Walsh’s direction, or with the performances: indeed Cillian Murphy’s emotional intensity and Mikel Murfi’s wild LeCoq-trained physical clowning are breathtakingly good as they interact and fantasise in an inexplicable garage-cum-flat with scrawled walls and no door. Stephen Rea’s arrival halfway through, as a business- suited mystery man presaging death after playing Jenga with a tower of biscuits and crooning into a ceiling mic, is impressive too.
Some comic moments (though I suspect Galway laughed more merrily) are fed by the two men rushing, leaping, doing wild things with balloons, a golf club and gym equipment. Better received are the passages – powerfully reminiscent of Under Milk Wood – when in role- play they evoke the village they no longer inhabit . Actually, maybe they never did, or possibly they were banished from it to this weird graffitied limbo for being crazy. Murphy, pretending to be the old shopkeeper Joyce Drench while hunched on top of the wardrobe is fine; so is Murfi’s physical evocation of each inhabitant, changing in a second. But that is a matter of applied craft. More enlightening, oddly, are the ghostly recorded voices from the walls (one is the inimitable Pauline McLynn, hurrah). They offer scraps of barmy but recognizable elderly conversations – (“I always felt my body was following me around”) as if scripted by a Hibernian Alan Bennett in the process of emerging groggily from a general anaesthetic.
But that word, scripted… Yes, there lies the problem. Not only do the whimsical passages about five legged rabbits make you fear that the dialogue is in danger of vanishing up its own craic, but some more serious long monologues near the end destroy any illusion that we are among real suffering individuals (and they are indeed suffering in their dislocated universe, it’s bleak). Twice or thrice I felt that awful jolting sense ‘he isn’t speaking, he’s reciting”. And for all the atmosphere, the cleverness, the small good shocks which set and events offer – that gap between text and humanity sort of kills it. Maybe Walsh means it to: maybe it is a rueful paean to self-harming introverted Irishness: “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold…” See: Yeats said it better, a century ago.
box office 0207 452 3000 to 11 oct