Ballyturk – Review

Cillian Murphy in Ballyturk. Photo by Patrick Redmond.
Cillian Murphy in Ballyturk. Photos by Patrick Redmond.

You know it’s going to tax your brain when the advanced press release is so vague about a play’s content that it’s clear that the writer is clueless.

Enda Walsh’s surreal Ballyturk was met with rapturous applause at the National Theatre last night – but all around me people were asking their companions – “Did you understand it? Do you know what it was about?”

I thought I had a handle on it only to lose the plot time and again. Perhaps Irish comedy didn’t travel well. Maybe I was too ill-educated to get to the heart of the three-hander.

Enda, who wrote and directs the piece, wanders into Beckett territory.

It’s probably a blessed relief that Ballyturk doesn’t appear on an A Level syllabus because students would quite their courses in frustration.

So apologies. You’re a better person than me if you got it.

We’re at an unspecified place and time and two men are seemingly sealed up inside a room. Their only contact with the outside world is through their imaginations but it was the realities that left me baffled.

Why was Mikel Murfi seemingly covered in white bodypaint? Why did Cillian Murphy splash the set with talc? How did they get their food if they never went out? What were the red balloons all about?


There is a lot of frenzied physical comedy, which is occasionally funny in a childish way.

It which consists of the pair, but mainly Murphy, dashing across the vast stage, leaping up different levels of the shabby-looking set, and manically engaging in a series of activities.

After just a few minutes he is bathed in sweat and I’m exhausted trying to keep up with him.

Both men appear quite mad and pass their time impersonating scenes and people from the village of Ballyturk. Whether Ballyturk is real or a figment of their vivid imaginations is speculative.

The programme tells us that Walsh likes to imprison his characters and allow the drama to come from his dialogue.

But there were times when I switched off from Murphy’s incoherent ramblings. They may have made some kind of sense but they didn’t engage me.

Neither man has a name. Murphy’s character is the younger of what are possibly brothers. He occasionally has epileptic fits which Murfi helps to control.

The ginger-haired Murfi walks with an exaggerated gait that borders on a tic. They keep themselves amused dancing, dressing and undressing, and living for the moment.


Then suddenly a third character, who I took to be Death, arrives in the form of chain-smoking Stephen Rea.

He gives the men a lengthy diatribe on the vital use of his right hand before giving them an ultimatum.

There’s a lovely set piece involving a Jenga-esque tower of biscuits and an awful lot of dialogue, some of it amusing, a lot tragic.

All three men give absorbing performances but I walked out doubting my own sanity. Had I enjoyed it? Mmm..So what was it about?

Ballyturk runs until October 11.

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