The business of living isn’t always easy. No one knows that better than Thomas Magill, a lonely, thirty-something midlands dweller, who is battling demons from within and without.
Living in a warehouse cluttered with tape-recorders, scrambled eggs and teddy bears, Thomas fills his days with activities – visiting his father in the graveyard, buying his mother biscuits and promoting religious improvement around the town of Inishfree – in an effort to stave off his darker tendencies.
Based on that description, Misterman – by internationally acclaimed Irish playwright Enda Walsh – should perhaps be the most miserable of plays, a torrent of self-loathing and woe. But Misterman is not what it seems.
While at one level Walsh’s reimagined play (first staged in 1999) represents ‘‘that very simple thing of what it is to be alive’’, as Walsh would have it, it’s rarely outwardly miserable. In fact, it’s one of the sharpest, laugh-out-loud funniest and most acutely well-observed plays I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.
Misterman is ostensibly a 120-minute monologue from Cillian Murphy in the role of Thomas. But a large number of voices (along with an excellent score from Donncha Dennehy) also inhabit the stage. Some come at you from the Beckettian tape-recorders placed around the cavernous space – such as the voices of Thomas’s Mammy and the ‘angel’ Edel, which Thomas has recorded in his travels around the town.
Others are revealed by Thomas himself, as Murphy, giving an extraordinary performance, morphs himself into other characters, by dint of note-perfect changes in his vocal register and body language. He’s Mr McAnerney (‘‘Your poor dad.Now he was a great man,” he tells Thomas), the bully Dwain Flynn (‘‘You fucking headcase!” he screams at Thomas), Simple Eamon Moran (a potential religious affiliate) and Timmy O’Leary (‘‘the boy who treats his mother like an old dog’’).
So total is the transformation in each case that you find yourself thinking Murphy (unrecognisable in a dirty, buttoned-up shirt, his beard unkempt, his striking eyes almost hidden by hair) could do a great job of being a stand-up comic.
The wit of Walsh’s script,meanwhile, is dust-dry, the ripostes blunt and pithy. ‘‘D’ya know what I’d do if I didn’t have my senses? I’d kidnap ya,’’ one old biddy (also played by Murphy) tellsThomas affectionately. ‘‘The guards would have to lock me up.”
Line by line,Walsh moves to inextricably link the everyday with the grotesque – and the darkness waiting beyond. If there’s a slight dip in quality in the later stages, as Thomas moves towards a more naked expression of pain, this is no more than a small gripe.
This is the kind of play that makes you feel incredibly lucky to have seen it. Misterman is a stunning achievement.