Ballyturk. What kind of a place is…Ballyturk?
Before me is a sparse room: a studio apartment, shared by two grownups, yet not necessarily adults, considering the aesthetic style that edges on simultaneously chaos and Spartan. And all the balloons scattered around: a potential hazard for the easily startled, surely.
Two nameless men populate the room: one in a cropped top and a 1970s red hurling helmet (1, played by Tadhg Murphy), and the other with a ginger mullet, wearing nothing but underpants and a curious layer of talcum power over his entire body (2, Mikel Murfi).
It quickly becomes clear that this is their space and has been for an indescribable length of time. Although they cannot seem more out of place here.
There doesn’t seem to be an exit either.
Life unravels at a manic pace for the men, as the two nameless men go about their business, trying hard to grasp onto a certain reality, or the lack thereof.
Ballyturk? That seems to be an anchor to the men’s consciousness.
They remember everyone, every thing from Ballyturk, in great details, a rural epicenter of gossip and mundane nothings: 1 describes each of the townsfolk’s daily routines, and 2 recalls every turn on his path heading home from the grocery store after buying a single bottle of milk.
They don’t use the word, although it is spelled out in neon lights against the back wall in episodes of the men’s fever dreams, under which sketches of half-forgotten faces stare out blankly like ghosts of distant memories.
Perhaps it’s where they’re from…Ballyturk, the name of their lost childhoods? Not quite. Or rather, a game played by the two co-dependent outsiders isolated from their past, and as the never-changing, austere exterior world closes in on them, an imaginary realm that becomes more and more elaborate and fantastical.
Two nameless men, each with overly active imaginations, at times seem almost like brothers, yet at times they don’t even seem to know each other.
They speak of a sense of “foreboding” though, from the very beginning, which is what you’d get from the play as well, from the very beginning. They speak of it as a terrifying thing, a savage bunny who stabs his brother to death for no particular reason. (“That’s family for ya…”)
Or, the particularity of wearing a bright yellow jumper in a town that’s mostly grey and brown and the color of dirt… It’s curious how, even in the men’s wildest dreams, their fantasy town is a collection of pretty drab people.
Perhaps the regularity and a sense of belonging is what they crave, as the two nameless men started to make me think of prisoners serving life sentences, or those inflicted with mental illness who treasure a bit of normalcy, or those who tip toe through life with a sense of displacement, existing but not really living.
The appearance of a mystery woman (Olwen Fouéré) interrupts the high energy, rollercoaster of a play with a sense of solemnity, and perhaps even a bit of a fear factor. Their apparent captor or the minstrel of their strange situation steps into the two nameless men’s dwelling from the suddenly collapsed back wall, and offers them a choice: one of them gets to leave the room, walk towards her for the 12 seconds, and die.
Fouéré‘s deliverance of this Death-like character is severe but with a hint of tenderness. There is no cruelty in her nature, but rather a matter-of-fact-ness, or even mercy. Her achingly beautiful monologue detailing the ephemerality of life, with all its beauty and tragedy, thus ties all the confusion together, and offers the two nameless men, as well as the audience, some clue as to how they all got here.
So now we know it. Ballyturk is a made-up wonderland with nothing of importance, but its beauty lies in the mundane. It’s a place we want to run away from as children, yet desire with all our hearts as we grow old.
Enda Walsh’s enigmatic new work will keep you on edge and speculating till the very end, and even then, you might still leave with traces of uncertainty. It’s also an absolute delight to witness the pair‘s spot-on physical comedy even in this bleakest of stories: one of the highlights comes as Murphy‘s 1 is describing every resident of Ballyturk and Murfi‘s 2 physicalizes with a few gestures and motions the essence of all the people we never know but are so familiar with.
Ballyturk is certainly a play that deserves much attention and introspection after the rapid-fire experience. It might not be for everyone, especially those who step inside the theatre expecting a tangible narrative or simple characters. Ballyturk will surely mean different things to each audience member, and that’s, more often than not, the best part of theater.
Ballyturk runs to January 28, 2018. More production info can be found here.