Where are we? What are we? How many legs does a bunny have? All questions that we have asked ourselves at some point, and ones that epitomise the tone of Enda Walsh’s “Ballyturk”, directed by Andy Arnold. Simon Donaldson and Grant O’Rourke play two nameless men in a dismal, doorless room, who mould their confined existence into one enriched with stories and characters from their imaginary town of Ballyturk.
To say any more would be to give away too much of a bazaar and deliberately unexplained premise, but it goes without saying that the characters, the room, and everything that lies outside of it can be interpreted in any number of ways. Is this earth? Is this Plato’s cave? Is this limbo? Is this simply a meditation on the human will to live, and the role of art?
These questions linger after the curtains have closed, but so does the feeling that there is a considerable amount of filler in between these meditations. After being introduced to O’Rourke’s character as he swaggers out of a wardrobe eating crisps and wearing nothing but a pair of boxers, the two burst into a dance sequence to ABC’s “The Look of Love” as they get dressed. O’Rourke’s prancing and Donaldson’s hopping about the stage is well-choreographed if baffling, but soon after there is another dance sequence, this time featuring line dancing. With so many broad topics on the table, you can’t help but question why you are seeing this again.
Donaldson and O’Rourke give complex, layered and haunted performances that ground the play’s lofty ideas, but their characters are woolly. This could be intentional, but that doesn’t make them interesting to watch (though Wendy Seager’s performance is a refreshingly contrast later on). While they do come out with some gems of dialogue (“when was the last time something wonderful happened?”), it is easy to get lost in the ambiguously poetic monologues throughout the performance. Add that to the near unintelligible pacing, and it is difficult to follow the show’s themes, let alone its narrative. Despite this, it all leads to an unexpectedly moving ending.
A dark yet optimistic combination of “Waiting for Godot” and “Room” in rural Scotland, “Ballyturk” asks deep and thought-provoking questions about life and death. Even so, they are questions that have been asked before, and with more compelling characters and engrossing dialogue to balance their foreboding tone and themes. Three stars.