at the National Theatre
Critical opinion of this blockbuster of a one-man show from the National Theatre seems fixated with one thing; the fact that Cillian Murphy fills so effortlessly a stage the size of the not-so-Lyttelton's. Well, we're not surprised. He's long been one of those jammy actors to walk the line between art house and Hollywood. Just look at his filmography for evidence. As such we never doubted the size of his talent. What's more, we're talking about a man so disgustingly, magnetically attractive – particularly when rocking a full beard, as he does in this – that, in the flesh, it was always going to be impossible to take your eyes off him.
Interestingly, Cillian's still gorgeous despite the fact his Misterman character's not exactly what you'd call...typically fanciable. Our company for the evening is Thomas Magill, the ultimate reverse of a toxic bachelor.
This 30-something singleton and evangelical Christian lives a sorry existence near the picturesque-sounding Irish village of Innisfree in a rancid old abandoned warehouse (props to James Vartan's for his immense and incredibly complex set design, which is dark, dank and foreboding). Thomas is ragged, dirty, and quite clearly insane from the off, boasting a mother-complex that would put Norman Bates to shame and a god-complex to match.
He's uncomfortable, fidgety and jittery, running from one side of the vast stage to the other every two minutes with all the sugary energy a diet of orange Fanta affords; just to watch him is exhausting. Even the high-pitched, childish voice Cillian's created for Thomas is unbearable. What's truly confusing, though, is that while far from fanciable Thomas isn't entirely dislikable, and when the action/plot undertakes a low-octane arc, it's tempting to call him charming, in an annoying little brother kind of way.
Then, without warning, Enda Walsh's rich, dense steam of consciousness-style dialogue accelerates, jumping headfirst into rambling, wince-inducing depths, hopping back and forth between the maniacally banal and the heart-stoppingly profound. Thomas's observations about the sinful lives of the village's inhabitants, reiterated through often comical impressions of past conversations (here Cillian is a tour de force, effortlessly channeling multiple personalities, accents and emotions within short time frames) are astute but obsessive. As such, there always seems to be something of a method to Thomas's madness, which makes the true extent of his slowly-unfolding instability all the more terrifying.
National Theatre, South Bank, London
Photo: Catherine Ashmore
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