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The Sunday Independent - July 17th 2011
Eerie study of a doomed soul's search for purity
It was perhaps a mistake for Enda Walsh to give public attribution for the trigger of his Misterman to the tragic murders of Imelda Riney, her baby son and a local priest by Brendan O'Donnell in 1994.
Public curiosity is looking for similarities and discrepancies; there are some of both for those who remember those terrible events. But this is a play, a creative work about a deeply and horribly disturbed man obsessed with purity. Walsh is a writer, not a social historian, and it diminishes. his work to read it as a theatrical rendering of the O'Donnell horror.
Misterman, re-written for Landmark and Galway Arts Festival, is a vastly different work from that presented in 1999 by Corcadorca with the writer in the title solo role. Walsh as director and his star Cillian Murphy have taken the scenario of the simple-minded Thomas Magill and managed to narrow and intensify his trapped soul while extending the canvas over which he must battle for survival in a world he sees as falling far short of angelic perfection.
Thomas keeps a notebook of the crudities and misdemeanours he sees in the town of Inishfree, possibly a mental island of his own invention and nothing to do with the town in which he lives with his invalid Mammy. He chats uneasily to the townspeople, with enough self-knowledge to be aware that he is the butt of both pity and mockery. But while he is not forced into reality, he can cope.
Then he meets Edel; she is his pure angel, to be adored and escorted through flowery meadows. But Thomas has a man's body, despite his simple mind. It betrays him and the result is tragedy.
The text is played out in a vast, complex industrial space designed by Jamie Vartan, in which Murphy's insignificant body capers, wanders, crouches, hides and loses itself, crashing noisily through its levels and crevices, engaging with and haunted in turn by the voices of his life, his Mammy, his silent Daddy in the grave, the mocking lads in the dance-hall, the garage man with the calendar girl on his wall which triggers Thomas's journey into doomed, violent reality.
With so much variety and horror, it seems inadequate to describe Murphy's performance as seamless, a word that implies a placid surface. But this is what he manages, as he engages the audience in his clouded torment, laying bare Thomas Magill's sad soul as ragingly as if he took a scalpel to his heart.
Misterman is a marvellous achievement for everyone concerned, with Adam Silverman's lighting, Gregory Clarke’s sound, and Donnacha Dennehy's music fluidly part of the tragic, terrible whole.