Misterman, National Theatre
Cillian Murphy is best known for his performances in films like Batman Begins and Breakfast on Pluto, his popularity demonstrated by the gushing fan girls sat next to me. I’m not ashamed to admit that following his performance in Misterman, I can’t help but feel a bit of a fan girl too. This 90 minute monologue showcases his virtuoso talent as self-styled preacher, Thomas Magill, is dragged through his version of living hell, whilst simultaneously multi-roling for his life.
Thomas has no doubts about his mission on earth: he surreptitiously records the sinful activities of the townsfolk of Innisfree, determined to make his hometown righteous again. The townsfolk are heard both on tape and played by Murphy. From jittery old Mrs O’Leary to macho man Charlie McAnerny, Murphy attacks every role with incredible versatility, playing against himself with perfect comic timing. But as the play progresses, the recorded voices fill a more dominant space in his psyche and can’t be controlled by him; the schizophrenic frenzy of his character is heart-wrenching to watch.
This monologue (which owes a nod to Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape) is a brave and insightful form of characterisation from writer Enda Walsh. Walsh champions writing about Ireland and couldn’t have found a more appropriate Thomas than Irish actor, Cillian Murphy (whom Walsh worked with before on his play Disco Pigs, winning Murphy his first taste of stage acclaim). Murphy’s famously blue eyes shine angelically from the stage, inspiring immense sympathy for this pathetic disciple – a dilemma for the audience since his own sins actually make him the anti-hero of Innisfree.
Walsh’s play explores the potential repercussions of dogged faith. Like an omen of these ramifications, the O’Donnell’s agitating dog – which Thomas doesn’t have a healthy relationship with to say the least – continues to haunt him after its death. The re-enactment of a day in the life of Thomas Magill is played out within a vast, industrial space, like an abandoned factory. Shut up in here, his make-believe is jolted by the dog’s barking and the trembling walls as it tries to get in – or perhaps, as the animal inside Thomas struggles to get out, repressed by his stoical piety. Indeed, Murphy throws himself about the stage recklessly; a smaller space couldn’t contain his boundless energy. Jamie Vartan’s set is a conceptual masterpiece: a playground for Thomas’ singular mind (and a nightmare for whoever has to clean it after Murphy has thrown all his props left, right and centre like a baby in a pram). The animal presence turns this liberating set on its head as Gregory Clarke’s tumultuous soundscape swells into the space, and the lights flicker and fall. Adam Silverman makes no obvious allusions between the lighting and heaven, instead using the soft, surrounding darkness to isolate episodes in Magill’s life. It’s the most disturbing lighting effect that I’ve endured as an audience member, as the auditorium seems to swallow you up.
Under Enda Walsh’s direction, all the production values blend seamlessly together, as if they were a living, breathing monster. Most impressive is the layering of Murphy’s speech with the tape recordings – a risky structure, but impeccably timed. Walsh’s intelligently balanced script carries the audience through Magill’s life without the need for naturalistic devices. The poetry of Magill’s monologue paints Innisfree as a town both beautiful and ugly, so that the audience can visualise it for themselves. This poetic vision exemplifies Magill’s idealistic character; Walsh builds him a heavenly pedestal, so like a tragic hero, the greater is his fall.
Misterman is undoubtedly the best thing I’ve seen all year. An absolute triumph for Enda Walsh, whose vast vision only Thomas Magill could believe in, and only Cillian Murphy could channel. It is Magill’s belief and the audience’s shared belief in the production, which makes this production all the more raw to watch.
Veronica Aloess, 19, is an aspiring arts journalist and playwright, who trained at Arts Educational School London and is currently studying towards a BA in English with Creative Writing at Brunel University. As a reviewer, she has written for A Younger Theatre, and her arts blog West End Epilogue is a part of AKA’s blogging network. She recently co-founded Don’t Make Me Angry Productions, which is dedicated to new, original writing and innovative performance.
She reviewed Misterman at the National Theatre, and was shortlisted independently by all three judges. “Her writing has style and flair without losing sight of her job as a reviewer,” said the judges.