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Sunday 22 April 2012

Misterman, play written and directed by Enda Walsh, National Theatre. Lyttleton, London, 9* out of 10

Thomas Magill (Cillian Murphy) is an eccentric outsider who  lives in the village of Innishfree in the Irish countryside,where he looks after his frail, elderly mother. When he leaves his house for errands, the mission he believes has been assigned to him - by a beautiful Angel sent from God - is to watch over the good people of Innishfree and make them repent for their sinful lives. Like a conscientious local reporter, Thomas commits everyone's misdeeds to paper and to the tapes of his portable cassette recorder. His neighbours are none to pleased. What begins as harmless banter between the self-appointed guardian of good morals and the other villagers gradually takes a more sinister turn.

Misterman was first performed in 1999. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is reported to have said:“You could not step twice into the same river; for other waters are ever flowing on to you.”  This is not much different with this play which in 2012 comes to us in a new context. We saw it in a week where the narcissistic Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik explained to his judges that he was on a sacred mission to save the future of Norway. In its service he claimed that he had to override all empathy for his fellow human beings, however hard he may have found it. 

In Misterman, Walsh gives us some insight into the mind of the loner who develops an obsession and how he is perceived treated or ignored by those around him; at some point such an obsessed person can turn into a mildly annoying or perhaps even lovable eccentric, who adds to the diversity of village life; Or such a person can turn into a perpetrator of brutal acts, beyond our comprehension.

Enda Walsh's beautifully observed play melds comedy, drama and pathos into a coherent whole which holds the attention of the audience from beginning to end. There can be no interval in this 90 minute play. Its impact is impressively reinforced by the set, a large disused manufacturing plant, and by the lighting with its neon symbols of Catholicism. The vast set reflects and amplifies the landscape of alienation and desolation of Tomas McGill's inner life. With Enda Walsh and Martin MacDonagh Ireland has given the English performing arts multi-talented story tellers, that can write and direct for the stage and film alike.

Beyond the excellent writing and the great set, it takes a brilliant actor to fill the stage and bring the story and its characters to life in this one-man play. Cillian Murphy's performance is mesmerising.  He is an actor whose talent shines on the stage and in film (for example as the evil Dr. Jonathan Crane in Batman begins). In this production at the Lyttleton, Cillian Murphy is truly outstanding. The rapturous applause from the full house was thoroughly deserved.

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