Rebecca Coates shares her thoughts on the National Theatre’s much anticipated, Ballyturk.
“We know our words, we know where to go – but other than that it’s a live experience.” Actor Mikel Morfi shakes his head, grins “It’s wild.”
“Wild” is a good a word as any to describe Ballyturk, a fragmentary, frenetic 90 minutes of uninterrupted action. The play centres on the routines and imaginings of two unnamed characters, referred to as One and Two, Cillian Murphy and Mikel Murfi, respectively. The audience is thrust into their world with no explanation, forcing us to constantly play catch-up; the answers to our questions are always just out of reach. There is the possibility that this lack of answers or concrete explanations could become frustrating, and in the hands of lesser actors, the repeated motifs could well have become wearing and lost their impact. However, the sustained emotional and physical energy of Murfi and Murphy means that the sense of rising chaos is maintained throughout the play.
Ballyturk focuses mainly on the themes of freedom, identity and mortality but despite the philosophising – particularly notable in Three’s (Stephen Rea) poetic monologues – the main draw of the play comes from the physical comedy and sheer versatility displayed by Murphy and Murfi. The two play a wide range of people from their imagined town of Ballyturk: at one point Murfi flips through around thirty different characters with enthralling mime skills, capturing their individual personalities in a matter of seconds. Murphy is similarly gripping, almost incandescent as he loses himself in memories, both the real and imagined, eyes closed, hand reaching out as if trying to grasp his forgotten past. The two bounce off each other with consistently perfect timing, alternating seamlessly between very real heartbreak and laugh-out-loud humour, the hysteria only broken momentarily by the sudden arrival of Three. Rea is a composed, controlled contrast, a disrupting force in the world of regimented disorder One and Two have created, offering one of them a way out into the real world – a real life, full of uncertainty, that will eventually end in death.
It is this uncertainty, the play seems to suggest, that One and Two are trying to avoid, through their carefully timed actions (each routine is brought on by the chime of a clock), and their immersion in the imaginary town they can control – a literal immersion: the walls are covered with drawings of Ballyturk and its people. And, as the audience strives to make sense of the action, we too wrestle with the question of uncertainty. It is only when One starts to reach for supressed memories, when he embraces the adventure the outside offers, that he can become free – and perhaps, if this tells us anything, it is that Ballyturk is best enjoyed, not by wrestling for perfect understanding, but by simply allowing it to be.
Ballyturk is showing at The Lyttleton Theatre until 11 October 2014
Featured Image Credit: David Samuel via Wikipedia