One of the definite highlights of this year’s Galway Arts Festival is Enda Walsh’s Misterman which sees him reunited with Cillian Murphy for the first time since their feted collaboration on Disco Pigs 15 years ago.
Misterman is a dark and blisteringly funny tale of one man, Thomas Magill, played by Murphy, who is on a self-appointed mission to “do the Lord’s work” in the small community of Inishfree. The play brings us indelible portrayals of the evangelising Thomas and the various townsfolk he encounters throughout his personal crusade.
Speaking ahead of the play’s Galway Arts Festival run next month, Walsh – who also directs the play - talked about the creation of Misterman.
However he began by recalling that earlier landmark staging of Disco Pigs which would prove such a breakthrough in the careers of Walsh and both its cast-members, Cillian Murphy and Eileen Walsh (who also features in this year’s Galway Arts Festival in Corcadorca’s Request Programme ).
“I was really lucky to get these two terrific, enigmatic actors who were both perfect for the kind of energy they brought to their roles,” Walsh tells me. “The chemistry between them was just so right and the play itself just seemed to be the right play for Cork and for the theatre scene at the time.”
Premiering in Cork, Corcadorca’s staging of Disco Pigs had a huge impact on Irish audiences and subsequently toured successfully to Edinburgh, London’s West End, Australia, Canada, and mainland Europe. It set Walsh, Murphy, and Eileen Walsh firmly on the paths to success they have all enjoyed in their careers in the years since. And while they haven’t worked together since, they remain in regular contact and, co-incidentally, all live within 20 minutes of each other in London.
As he explains how the arts festival production of Misterman came about, Walsh reveals that the initial impetus came from Cillian Murphy. The play itself first saw the light of day as a one-act production, which Walsh himself performed for Cordadorca in 1999. This new staging is a substantially re-worked and expanded version of the piece.
“I’ve never revisited any of my plays before,” Walsh reveals, “but Cillian came to me one day about two years ago and said he would really like to perform Misterman. When I looked at it again, I felt there was a lot more I could do with the play. I wanted to delve deeper into Thomas and really crack open the head of this character and all his dealings with issues of guilt.
“Misterman is a play that’s had a massive effect on everything I’ve written since 1998. On the page it seems slim but the world of it, the character’s history, his disturbing psychosis, always felt huge. I suppose now with 13 years’ experience and a little more craft I can see what we missed all those years ago. More than the spine of the original remains but it has been developed much further over the past year.
“Its story travels a more circuitous route than before. There’s none of the rush of telling the story, instead we see the strange detail of what he remembers, of how he has learnt to lie, and how his guilt has shaped his bizarre existence.”
Many of the other characters who feature in the play appear in taped conversations with Thomas which is one of ways in which this version differs from the earlier one, as Walsh outlines.
“The first version was staged much more sparsely than this one is,” he says. “We didn’t use any tapes first time around. This will be much more elaborate, and there will be almost hallucinogenic use of lighting at times. The play is kind of like Disco Pigs in that it portrays a character who basically has arrested development. Thomas is stuck with this simplified catechism view of the world. And Thomas is the kind of guy that if he doesn’t continue on this mission of his he would probably commit suicide. It’s a story that’s crazy and vibrant and sad.”
While Walsh might be associated with his native Dublin, and Cork through his fruitful early association with Cordadorca, recent years have seen him develop a strong, and prolific, affinity with Galway.
Druid has premiered no fewer than five of his plays – Medea, New Electric Ballroom, Walworth Farce, Gentrification, and Lynndie’s Gotta Gun, Galway Youth Theatre have presented Chatroom, Fregoli have staged both Bedbound and Disco Pigs and the Galway Arts Festival has hosted a production of The Small Things.
“I’ve been quite seduced by the city,” Walsh laughs as he considers this remarkable run of Galway productions. “And I’m really looking forward to having Misterman on in the arts festival. I love summertime shows and I love having a play on as part of an arts festival where you can have theatre taking place alongside other artforms.”
Walsh is also effusive in his praise of the creative team who have come together to bring Misterman to the stage.
“We have gathered an amazing creative team including designers Jamie Vartan [set], Adam Silverman [lighting], and Gregory Clarke [sound]. The production will also feature the world premiere of a specially commissioned score by one of Ireland’s leading contemporary composers, and founder of the renowned Crash Ensemble, Donnacha Dennehy. I feel so privileged to be working with them all.
“And in Cillian Murphy we have an actor who has the intensity and courage to push himself to the limit. Working to all our potential I hope and believe we can offer a slice of Ireland and Irish theatre that feels dangerous, deeply unsettling, and challenging for any audience.”
Misterman will run at the Black Box Theatre from Thursday July 7 to Sunday July 24 (excluding July 12 and 18 ). Tickets are on sale from the festival box office and through www.galwayartsfestival.com and www.ticketmaster.ie