Magill’s last tape: Siren Theatre Co’s Misterman

First staged in 1999, Enda Walsh’s Misterman is a tour-de-force monologue which twists and turns, before punching us in the gut. Directed by Kate Gaul at the Old Fitz theatre, it is a harrowing and entertaining play about one man’s crusade to bring God to the townfolk of Inishfree.
The play – or monologue, if you prefer – is the story of Thomas Magill, played with relish by Thomas Campbell. Magill is an unstable man in his mid-thirties and, like in Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape, much of the interactions between characters in Walsh’s play come from banks of reel-to-reel tape recorders scattered around the set. With echoes of Beckett, Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood, and James Joyce’s Ulysses – in that it is one man’s journey through a town over the course of what could be a day – Walsh’s (very) blackly comic play builds to a terrifying conclusion.

Gaul directs with a lightness and clarity which alleviates the full darkness of Walsh’s piece. Moments – like when Campbell cooks and eats a scrambled egg, or when he goes to the cemetery to visit his late father – are moving and poignant, simple charms of stagecraft, but are also portents of what is to come, and Gaul does not shy away from giving us the full horror of the final moments in a terrifying soundscape.
Nate Edmondson’s sound design and score are naturalistic, and is impeccably timed with Magill’s finely calibrated performance, and vice-versa. Hartley T A Kemp’s lighting is simple, effective, and a little bit of genius; the reveal of the church-cum-cemetery – a crucifix made from old beer cans and fairy lights – is beautiful, as is the opening moments, in pitch blackness, as Magill describes the creation of the world, and the lights from the tape recorders grow in brightness.
While there is some ambiguity as to the nature of the play – is it Thomas’ recollection of events? Is he mad, and we are inside his head and everything is made up? Is it a ‘life before my eyes’ scenario? – the accomplishment and finesse on show here is never in doubt. At seventy minutes long it seems perfectly crafted, and is “a seductive and terrifying portrait of innocence turned toxic, of a luminous madness that dares you not to look away.” I’d even go so far as to say it’s one of the highlights of the year so far.

Definitely recommended.

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