by SHANE HEGARTY
CILLIAN MURPHY has been in Galway for the past few weeks. The whole town knows it, because the whole town seems to have met him somewhere along the way. In a pub, at a show, on the street. One tourist stopped and asked a man for directions to the Black Box, where later she would be going to see Misterman . She had, of course, stopped Murphy, who plays the only role in Enda Walsh’s play, and whose face is currently behind a curtain of hair and the brambles of a wild beard.
Murphy arrived a few minutes into the comedian David O’Doherty’s show, on Tuesday night, and, even in the darkness, it was a cause for murmur and nudges and distraction, as some audience members watched Murphy being an audience member.
It is ludicrous that this person, as human as anyone else, and simply seeking entertainment after his own exertions, should be scrutinised in his private hours. (Oh, all right, then, here’s what he did. He laughed uproariously throughout, almost doubling up in enjoyment at times. And he’s not as tall as you’d think.)
Misterman sold out thanks largely to his presence and a cacophonous performance, which over-runs the weaknesses of the play. At one point, audience members gasped at the possibility that Murphy might leap from a height. He had brought them to that point. (Although credit must go to the sound and lighting design, too, which are co-characters and require deft choreography. The mother is played by a tape player. You wouldn’t want to be pressing the wrong buttons for that.)
Meanwhile, not too far away, and in front of a full house of 20 people – full apartment, actually – Murphy’s former Disco Pigs co-star, Eileen Walsh, was appearing in something utterly different. At City Point apartments, one of those sterile, unloveable living spaces, Walsh gave a wordless solo performance in which the only sounds come chiefly from her routines: washing up, flicking through the TV channels and, yes, going to the toilet.
The audience of Request Programme is encouraged first to look around the apartment to get a sense of the character and can follow her as much as they want once she arrives. The performance settles into three distinct phases. There is an initial discomfort as Walsh goes through her routines, while the audience gets used to the set-up. Some continue to pick books off the shelves or her bedroom locker, even though the latter will be needed as a prop.
Early on, we all shuffle into the bedroom to watch her change from suit into casualwear, and it is easier to look at your shoes, around the room and or at everyone else than it is to look at her.
Then there’s a stretch when it’s about getting the hell out of the way. People scatter as she moves about. Walsh has become expert at slowing herself a little to allow the crowd to part, or someone to jump out of the way. The challenges have been interesting. On this night, a woman sitting at the kitchen table slides away but has to go back for her shoes, which she’d slipped off while making herself comfortable. On another night, a woman remained on the sofa despite Walsh clearly needing the space.
And then, once again, it becomes uncomfortable as she goes to the bedroom, prepares for bed, climbs in, turns off the light. You hardly want to breathe. It feels transgressive, as it is meant to be. A weak piece overall, it is about Walsh’s expertise; your own discomfort at being aware of yourself looking at Walsh – and of being watched by others.
Request Programme and Misterman made for unusual companion pieces. (They were programmed back to back.) To go from the silence of Request Programme to the din of Misterman was like going for a quiet nap on the sofa only to wake up in a steel foundry.
But did Cillian Murphy go to Request Programme? Would it have been possible given that much of the room – all of the room, with the exception of Eileen Walsh – would end up watching him watching her? And he would have had to pretend not to notice being noticed by everyone else, so that the whole context would become trapped in a feedback loop that would hobble the show for its hour. Although perhaps Murphy, a Hollywood actor who probably can’t walk down Shop Street without triggering a Mexican wave of nudges and nods and recognition, would appreciate the set-up, the context and the experience in a way no other audience member could.