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The Man In The Woman's Shoes (Tricycle Theatre)

Mikel Murfi writes and stars in his one man show

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Mikel Murfi in The Man in the Women's Shoes
© Vitaliy Piltser

Mikel Murfi is a one-man menagerie; Noah's Ark in human form. At the start of his self-penned solo show, he lends his voice to a whole barnyard: chickens cluck, pigs snuffle, sheep bleat and one unfortunate turkey goes to its death with a gargled wail of a gobble. Murfi is Ireland's answer to Doctor Doolittle.

It's not just pet sounds, though. In The Man in The Woman's Shoes, he brings a whole town to life. We see the rural Irish community of Sligo through the eyes of Pat Farnon, a mute cobbler on a gentle five-mile hike through town, walking in a pair of shoes for a female customer. Murfi embodies them all, from rambling pub regulars to blaring gaelic football coaches. The man contains multitudes.

Pat's a soft-soul, the sort of man who watches the world as it turns. When he tries to speak, his jaw locks and his mouth seizes into an O. All that comes out is a strained, stuttering moan. The fairies ran off with his words, he was told as a child. "Human talk isn't mine," he concedes. "I know you can hear me and all, but all that talk is going on in my head."

Around him, there's an awful lot of noise. As he strolls, a walk that mirrors Maddy Rooney's round-trip in Samuel Beckett's All That Falls, the whole town chatters at him, confessing their innermost secrets to the one man they know won't let slip. He has his own, of course – not least an unspoken love for the woman whose shoes he's wearing, the very vocal Kitsy Rainey.

Murfi's a chameleon, capable of shapeshifting in a split-second or holding a three-way conversation with himself. There's a great pleasure in winding him up and watching him go, but his performance – indeed, his whole play – does feel like a virtusoic turn, the sort of tour de force that steamrolls everything around it. He's so clamorous that you overlook writing that's heavy with blather and thick with sentiment. Really, this is a ragbag collection of odds and ends: a jumble of idiosyncrasies in search of a story.

Beneath the clattering comic vim, however, there's a quieter politics at play. Murfi is giving voice to the voiceless. Not just to Pat, whose absolute inarticulacy conceals a rich inner life, but to the sort of sleepy rural community that often goes unheeded, to the elderly, to the meek, and, yes, to women. It's telling that, in contrast to Pat's feminine footwear, Kitsy puts on football boots to scream herself hoarse coaching the local gaelic football team. Animals aren't the only ones that can't make themselves understood.

The Man in The Woman's Shoes runs at the Tricycle until 23rd April.

Read our interview with Mikel Murfi here