Lyttleton Theatre, London, 9 May 2012
Disclaimer: I like Cillian Murphy. If I'm honest, I quite fancy Cillian Murphy, but mostly, I think he's one of about five actors of his generation who have the talent and drive to continue to create great work beyond (and despite) romantic comedies and silly action films. So this review cannot be considered unbiased. :)
Misterman brings Irish cohorts Murphy and writer/director Enda Walsh back together, since their work on Disco Pigs (on stage and screen). I had heard of Walsh, of course, but hadn't seen any of his work and I've only just received my DVD of Disco Pigs from Amazon. Cillian Murphy, of course, was an entirely different proposition and I have no guilt in saying he was truly the only reason I went to see this play. I first saw him (as most people did), missing half his hair and shouting 'hello' across a deserted Westminster bridge in 28 Days Later. I thought he was hilariously evil in Red Eye, wonderfully arrogant in Inception and deliciously psychotic in Batman Begins. But I loved, loved, loved him in Sunshine. Balancing the rationality of physics with the Nietzschist concepts of the void, all while saving the world from inside wheelie bin-sized space suit - what's not to love?
I was lucky enough to attend a discussion panel hosted by the British Film Institute a couple of years ago. The panel was made up of biologist, Adam Rutherford, scientist, Dr Lucie Green, NZ artist Honor Hargar, Professor Brian Cox (yes, him off the tele) and director Danny Boyle (gosh, what a wonderfully creative and articulate man). The topic was, obviously, the sun, and Boyle's film, Sunshine. Cool science stuff aside, one of the things that stayed with me was the retelling of a conversation that Prof Cox (scientific advisor on the film) had with Cillian Murphy one drunken evening, where they were talking about Capa (Murphy's character) and his final moments in the film, reaching out to touch the very thing he'd studied his entire life. If you'd like to see at least part of this panel, it's available in two parts on the BFI's website and this retelling is at 10 mins 50 secs in part one (spoiler alert for Sunshine, if you haven't seen it!). This was also a brief insight into part of Murphy's process as an actor, as he worked with Prof Cox on the development of Capa, including a trip to CERN, meeting and observing scientists in their natural habitat. NB The cheerful gurgles you can hear in the background are Prof Cox's infant son, George, being bounced by his mum, blogger and producer Gia Milinovich.
So I'd established that Cillian Murphy was a very fine film actor. I suspected that he might also be a very fine stage actor. But I really wasn't prepared for just how fine. Reviews of this nature are always difficult, as you don't want to give away the plot, the pertinent moments, the jokes and the suspense. Misterman is a complex, winding tale, told mostly in flashback, to the soundtrack of recordings made by the play's central character, Thomas Magill. Magill is a lay preacher and self-appointed moral guardian who lives at home with his mum in the quaint Irish town of Inishfree.
Murphy's solo performance is absolutely captivating from minute one. He launches into a frenzied attack, both verbal and physical, on the multi-leveled, crumbling garage set and it is impossible to let go of one second of his story for the next ninety minutes. It's the kind of emotional energy and physical ferocity that leaves the audience breathless and the props mistress in tears.
We meet the varied and flawed inhabitants of Inishfree and establish their relationships with Magill. We find out their secrets, their desires and their musical tastes (there's one particular 80s classic I'll never hear again without smiling). We also discover Magill's desires, his guilt, his frustration with the godless villagers and his own desperate search for acceptance.
Murphy's stage craft is without fault. The technical support is equally flawless, meeting his every step, clap, snap with a sound cue, a lighting cue. The entire set is Murphy's atrophying playground of rusted metal, naked light bulbs and luminous crucifixes, glorious decay, subject to a nightly impassioned barrage at the hands of a fevered evangelist. Pity the poor crew who have to reset every evening!
One-person shows are a source of great fascination for me. I've seen quite a few, but this and one other have stayed with me. The other was Sir Patrick Stewart's interpretation of A Christmas Carol, but it stayed with me for the same reason that Misterman has. When I remember the play, in my mind's eye, I see every single one of the characters as a separate, defined individual. I can tell you what they were wearing, whether they were tall, short, thin, fat, man or woman. But in both cases, there was only EVER one person on stage.
Murphy gives everything in Misterman. He screams, cries, shouts, whispers, spits and sweats and we are left feeling as drained as he looks by the time he takes his curtain call. Walsh's script questions many of the rules society and religion lay out for us and we grow attached to Magill, despite his faults, because in the end, he is only looking for the same thing that all of us are.