Theatre review: Ballyturk, Tron, Glasgow

Wendy Seager and Simon Donaldson in Ballyturk' PIC: John Johnston.
Wendy Seager and Simon Donaldson in Ballyturk' PIC: John Johnston.
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In the long and rich history of Irish absurdism, there have been two main strands. The first, pioneered by James Joyce and Flann O’Brien, is the narrative that brings a surreal and wildly inventive perspective to Irish places and communities, real or fictional; the second, perfected by Beckett, is the stripped-down minimalism that takes that voice and consciousness into abstract spaces on the very edge of existence. And what is striking about the best work of Enda Walsh – perhaps the greatest inheritor of that tradition writing today – is how powerfully he combines those two strands and moves them forward into our time; not least in his recent play Ballyturk, first seen in Galway in 2014.

Theatre review: Ballyturk, Tron, Glasgow ****

Like Vladimir and Estragon, in Waiting for Godot, the two male characters at the centre of Walsh’s play – known simply as One and Two – could hardly be more alone or more dependent on the well-established routines and rituals of their relationship.

Here, though, the setting is not blasted landscape on the edge of nowhere but the kind of squalid bachelor kitchen associated with plays such as Martin McDonagh’s Skull in Connemara.

Their main strategy for passing the time lies, it seems, in their own invention of the entire town of Ballyturk, a caricature of an Irish small town full of “characters” both kindly and cruel, whose faces appear in rough pencil-drawn images around their walls.

And the interruption to their routine comes not from a pair of passing travellers but from a figure very like death, who arrives in a spectacular coup-de-theatre to lecture them on the world – or afterworld – that lies beyond their room.

In staging the first UK production of Walsh’s play, Andy Arnold of the Tron takes the bold step of giving it a modern Scottish voice and succeeds in showing that the imaginary world of the play is inspired by Ireland but not confined to it.

Simon Donaldson and Grant O’Rourke are quietly superb as One and Two, rubbing along like the oddest of odd couples; they even indulge in hilariously unglamorous everyday dance routines, choreographed by Darren Brownlie to a raucous range of rock and pop.

And Wendy Seager’s Three arrives as a silkily burnished presence in a smart suit, a Godot all too ready to intervene in the world the two have made for themselves; powerful, affable and deeply menacing, in a play that blasts at the limits we often place on our own lives and consciousness, while fully acknowledging the comfort of the familiar and the terror of real change. - Joyce McMillan

Until 20 October