Sometimes theatre is to be experienced, not necessarily understood. I can't honestly say I knew exactly what was going on much of the time in Enda Walsh's latest play Ballykurk, which has transferred to the National after premiering at the Galway International Arts Festival in July. But then I can't honestly say I understand what is going on in most of his plays, with the exception of his thrilling stage adaptation of Once as a musical.
But what you do get is a great relentless torrent of words, strange and elliptical, in which his unnamed characters (they're simply numbered 1, 2 and 3 in the programme) pass the time by speaking, skipping, showering, and getting through the day. The programme also specifies that the setting is "No time, no place" but we seem to be in a bedsit of some kind, where two men are marooned, waiting for something to happen.
It's like Waiting for Godot all over again, with echoes of other Beckett plays including Happy Days and Krapp's Last Tape (some of the dialogue is voiced on tape).
There's a similar emphasis on bleak, gallows humour. And it affords three stunning actors the opportunity to act their socks off: Cillian Murphy and Mikel Murti are full of boundless energy as the two residents, while Stephen Rea is a voice of quiet authority as their strange visitor.
It makes for an odd, discomforting but strangely alluring evening in the theatre. It won't be to everyone's tastes, but go with the flow, and it has its rewards.
"Despite Cillian Murphy and Mikel Murfi's best efforts, this mad, chaotic play feels rather pointless."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph
"However you analyse it, Ballyturk offers a richly theatrical experience and is impeccably acted. Cillian Murphy shows he's a formidable comic athlete, while Mikel Murfi reveals the mimetic skill of a graduate of the Lecoq theatre school, in Paris."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"But without a clear plot to anchor them, these moments of humour and sadness feel like a match lit in a vacuum, they spark and vanish and don’t catch light. Murphy's character says in the final scenes, “there's no life to it. It's filling the room with words.” At several frustrating moments, this work feels just as pointless."
Emily Jupp for The Independent
"For all the flashes of humour Ballyturk is a bleak and exacting piece — abstract, at times cloyingly whimsical and pickled in its own absurdity. But it’s stunningly performed, and Walsh’s writing has wild verve."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard
"The play needs faith and patience if you’re going to take much home from it. Ninety minutes without interval, it kicks off with hyper-manic physical comedy, aping imagined characters in frenzied role-play."
Patrick Marmion for The Daily Mail