Misterman

For a one-man play, Enda Walsh’s Misterman feels almost mythically large in its intensity. This is reflected in its performance history: in 2012 Cillian Murphy took to the huge Lyttelton stage in the National Theatre as the text’s solo actor, yet reviews from the run claimed that he, and the play, dominated the space. In Kate Gaul’s production, currently on tour in Edinburgh from Australia, we see a different approach. Cramped into a small theatre on Hill Street, this version of Misterman uses containment and introspection to achieve its pressurised atmosphere of faith and frenzy.

A powerful examination of community, kindness and the line between faith and sanity.

Thomas Campbell plays Thomas Magill, a small-town Irish misfit who carries with him the burning desire to clean Inishfree of sin. He believes he has been directly touched by God, and goes about the town on his mission. Superficially affable and harmless, Magill is slowly revealed to be a mentally unhinged, dangerous fanatic. In the intimacy of C Primo, we increasingly get the sense that we are trapped inside Magill’s head.

This play is, on a background level, about Ireland; a fact that is quickly acknowledged by the conscious debt owed to Krapp’s Last Tape, the work of fellow Irishman Samuel Beckett. In a dirty, derelict space, Magill obsessively relives and replays a day from his past with the use of tape recorders – like Krapp – and stage props; the day is constructed from fragments of speech he has recorded from the townspeople of Inishfree alongside a series of character portraits enacted live. Campbell is deft in his use of roleplay and sound recordings, working both seamlessly into his performance – he keeps us guessing as to whether the props and characters have been deliberately curated by Magill in his telling of the story or whether they are the tools by which Walsh the playwright’s drama is told.

Campbell is, to be sure, a virtuosic performer. He seems to be everywhere at once, effortlessly shifting between moods and characters, straining against the boundaries of his disturbed mind. Particularly effective – and no doubt a product of his collaboration with director Kate Gaul – is the slow pace with which he lets the audience in on the play’s darkness. There are sinister overtones early in the drama but the extent of the madness that grips his character Magill is hidden for as long as possible. This is complemented by genuinely sad and pitiful moments, such as a scene where Magill sits by his father’s grave – a man very present in the story through his absence – and says the simple ‘I really miss you Daddy’. Enhancing Campbell’s delivery of the play, the space is exploited inventively. Much is made of hidden nooks and crannies, and the technical effects hit the right balance between simplicity and volume.

Always teetering on the edge of violence, Misterman is a powerful examination of community, kindness and the line between faith and sanity.

Reviews by Sam Fulton

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

A Sydney Critics’ multi award-winning tour-de-force performance of Enda Walsh’s riveting masterpiece. Thomas Campbell (Downton Abbey) plays Thomas Magill and the population of an entire town in a solo performance of epic proportions. ‘Misterman is provocative, buzzes with nuclear energy and, thanks to the holy trinity of Walsh, Gaul and Campbell – especially – is compulsory’ (Lloyd Bradford Syke, facebook.com/sykeonstage). ‘This production is perfect in almost every regard… All the elements combine in the tiny theatre to create something unexpectedly moving and overwhelming… A spectacular production with a spectacular performance which shouldn't be missed’ (Ben Neutze, Daily Review.com.au, Crikey.com.au).