Ballyturk is a bold new play by famed Irish playwright Enda Walsh, and quite a difficult play to review at that. In a setting of “no time” and “no place”, the play depicts the lives of the (unnamed) first and second characters, played by Cillian Murphy and Mikel Murphi, and the introduction of a game-changing third character, brilliantly portrayed by Stephen Rae. In the spirit of Beckett and other absurdist writings, Ballyturk is by no means a traditional narrative. At it's core, two characters entombed within some sort of eternal, windowless garage/bedroom/stage, spend their days enacting the fantasies of their shared fictional world of “Ballyturk”, a quaint Irish town with grocers, old ladies lovely imaginary forests and hills. Rather than ask questions or explore or give any sort of explanation to the audience, they live and perform in this space as if they've been here their whole life, too discouraged to even remember ever asking any questions. In a dazzling mix of physical comedy, top 80's hits, nonsense scenes (including a particular obsession with a certain yellow jumper), and gripping metaphysical philosophizing on the nature of life and death.
The inherent issue in reviewing a play of this nature is doing so in a way that the reader will understand. Simply put, this is a play that needs to be seen, not described. And what a play to see. The set resembles some sort of garage-turned bachelor pad, and yet its inhabitants are anything but bachelors. In a move taken straight from Brechtian philosophy, the lighting and sound design constantly remind us that we're watching a play. In a room without windows, light seems to come in from opposite directions and casting perpendicular shadows, and a mildly discomforting mid-morning glow. During the meta-theatrical performance of “Ballyturk” (the play within the play), spotlights guide the action, with lights and shadows defining what is and isn't within the realm of this world. Non-diagetic soundscapes become diagetic once referenced by the characters late in the performance. Nothing, visually or aurally, seems to make any coherent sense. But that's the beauty of this show, it doesn't have to. Not once during the show did I feel like I knew what was truly going on, but not once did that ever bother me. Everyone will walk away with a different experience and understanding of what they saw. For me, it was a reflection on the escapism of fiction, and the role live-theatre plays within that (and how seemingly minor details like lighting and sound can radically alter our interpretation of action), among countless other core themes. If you go in expecting a nice story with a lesson, you will be sorely disappointed. But if you can suspend your disbelief for 90 minutes and experience the sure purely as it is, then this will be an experience worth having over and over again. For those of you who love theatre and the art of theatre-production itself (like myself), then I could not recommend this higher, it is a must-see. For the rest, not so much.