The two of them first collaborated on Disco Pigs, which ignited the Edinburgh Festival fifteen years ago, Murphy playing a raver on the spree in Cork city, or rather “Pork sity.” It was a blasted, bracing, bravado view of the underworld.
Now he’s Thomas Magill, an introverted loner on the isle of Inisfree (“I will arise and go now, and go to Inisfree,” begins the great Yeats poem) clutching the memories and conversations of his parents – his mother’s on spools of tape, his father’s in the cemetery) – dishing the dirt, fighting with dogs, succumbing to cheesecake in Mrs Macleary’s café, writing it all down in his notebook.
His theatre of dreams and nightmares is a disused factory, where the lights spark, the illuminated crosses recede in the distance, the air fills with the horrendous noise of a party at the community centre, the balloons float down with a packet of jammy dodgers.
As in all of Walsh’s plays, the world conjured is a vivid, slightly soiled one of Celtic under-achievers suffering the burden of a repressive social culture and their liberty from the historic weight of the Catholic church; Thomas has a fateful encounter with a beautiful girl, an angel, in the café that will lead him to… well, not paradise exactly.
The play dates from twelve years ago, prophetically imagining an Ireland in the wake of the bursting of the Celtic bubble. In that respect, Murphy’s Thomas is like driftwood on the sea, floating inexorably to oblivion, hitching his pants and scratching his beard, his eyes ablaze with the fierce fragments of experience.
Misterman is a ninety-minute rollercoaster, kaleidoscopic in mood and construction, a perfectly realised stage poem in which the athletic, technically prodigious Murphy achieves a sort of magical transfiguration on a wonderful grimy design by Jamie Vartan, with great lighting by Adam Silverman and a distant cacophony of voices supplied by Niall Buggy, Eileen Walsh (Murphy’s fellow Cork raver in Disco Pigs), Simone Kirby and Mikel Murphy.
As with Cate Blanchett in Big and Small at the Barbican, this is a must-see performance by a superb artist, every bit as compelling and extraordinary as that of Mark Rylance as Johnny Rooster in Jerusalem.