Head on down to the Pilch Studio to see the first student production of ‘Ballyturk’ by Enda Walsh, showing this week from Wednesday to Saturday! When going to preview this play, the first thing that struck me is how ambitious it is in fact to want to put on this play in particular: its themes are multitudinous, extremely complex and inextricably intertwined with one another.
The play’s events are set against a background of seemingly trivial clutter, in which the two main, anonymous characters live trapped in a ritualistic routine. A familiar setting, I hear you say? Think again. Confusion sets in as the lyrical, poetic text bounces rapidly between tones: one moment bizarre and comical, the next sinister and foreboding. Extended sequences of physical theatre follow profound monologues punctuated with ludicrous conversations about murderous rabbits.
Ballyturk itself proves to be a fictional town to which the characters escape, depicted in chalk on the stage floor. There is a world within a world within a world to be discovered.
With the sheer quantity of props, ideas and themes at play in this piece, I worried that there might be a risk of overpowering and alienating the audience. I came to find out, however, that this was intentional, carefully orchestrated to confuse and intrigue us to great effect. And the flawless acting anchors the performance. The opening monologue, delivered by Seamus Lavan with blank stare and minimal motion, is utterly captivating against the chaos of the backdrop. The actors work well together and quickly establish the dynamics of the relationship on stage with their natural, easy communication. Not to mention they’ve nailed the Irish accents!
This is very much a ‘thinking man’s’ play. Metaphor and imagery are everywhere and to accommodate this, and every decision from set design through staging to soundtrack has been thought out with immense care by director Fred Wienand.
The audience should expect to be immersed in analytical exercise, as they’ll be driven to search for hidden meaning amongst so many unknowns and uncertainties. The ingenuity here is that the audience is meant to have no clear notion of what will be going on for the majority of the play but the directing and acting will make them believe they truly understand. A play like this, or indeed any play, does not rely on nor does it require a full understanding of every single scene, action or line. Nor does it promote a single understanding or interpretation. Especially in this play, a supposed lack of understanding does not matter, in fact it seems to be the very point and an effect the director wants to actively create in his audience. Three minutes into the preview I honestly didn’t know whether to laugh, scream or sob. This leads me to believe that the power of ‘Ballyturk’ will spring from its demanding an emotional response from the audience rather than from pushing audience members to conclusions based on logic.
The enthusiasm of everyone involved in this production shines through and provides the energy and drive that carries it. There are huge risks associated with performing a play this nuanced, but the risks taken look certain to pay off. The play promises to captivate and enthral its audiences, and may even prove the highlight of an outstanding term of student theatre.
Image // Misha Pinnington