Playwright Enda Walsh’s Misterman is one of the hottest tickets at this year’s Galway Arts Festival due in no small measure to the fact it sees Cillian Murphy take a rare break from his film career to ‘tread the boards’ again.
On Monday morning at the Radisson Hotel the duo took part in a press conference to talk about the play which sees them work together for the first time since Disco Pigs. While it has been 12 years since that production was last staged, Walsh and Murphy have remained good friends and live near each other in London.
It was over a sociable drink one evening that Murphy suggested Walsh should revisit Misterman, a play he had initially written as a one-act that he himself performed in 1999.
“I hadn’t done theatre for a while, it’s been five or six years and I was trying to find the right thing,” Murphy says as he talks about the motivation behind doing Misterman. “I’d been to all of Enda’s plays and I kept thinking ‘I wish I was in that’ and it just struck me one day ‘why don’t I just ask him?’
“And working with friends, because you know each other, you can go straight to the work, there’s no getting-to-know-each-other or tip-toeing around, it’s very liberating. That’s what I miss most about theatre, the rehearsal process, that laboratory of throwing ideas around and particularly when you’re in a room with a friend there’s complete ease.”
Murphy expands on what drew him to the play.
“I love Enda’s work first and foremost,” he says. “Any actor saying his words and playing his characters, they’re really challenging, you have to give everything. What he’s digging for are themes I’m very interested in.
“I think this play is about loneliness and guilt and carrying something around with you and the corrosive nature of that and what it does to a person. It’s a really bizarre and non-linear investigation of that.
“Thomas Magill [the play’s protagonist] is a brilliant character, very funny and very loveable but also, as you’d expect from Enda play’s, slightly not all there. And also, it being a one-man show, having not been back in theatre in a while you feel like ‘sure we’ll jump in the deepest end of the pool!’”
Misterman is a dark and blisteringly funny tale of one man, Magill, 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.
“Those characters that are on the periphery in small towns interested me,” says Walsh. “He’s massively lonely and also someone you would be unnerved by. I like characters who are on the edge. This is the world he’s built and we’re sitting in it. The play gives you hallucinogenic shards of deepest darkest quiet Ireland.”
Murphy describes the challenge of doing a one-man show.
“In this play it’s not just one character, he peoples the town so you get to play several different characters and that’s always fascinating to do,” he says. “It’s very fast and very intense so it’s an amazing immersive experience and I love that. I love characters and projects that take you miles and miles away from yourself. I like work that’s intense, I think Enda does as well. It involves a lot of commitment.”
Misterman previews from tonight to Monday and then runs throughout the festival from Wednesday July 13 to Sunday 24.