Arts Review: Ballyturk

Dir. Andy Arnold, Tron Theatre, 4th-20th October

Ballyturk is an absurdist dive into the claustrophobia of small town life through the filter of a dilapidated room inhabited by two unnamed men. Most memorable are the tableaus of life outside the room, with the two main actors, Simon Donaldson and Grant O’Rourke, seamlessly embodying the inhabitants of the town of Ballyturk, where the prejudices and pettiness of rural towns are vividly exposed. These divergences from the banal chat of the two men are by far the best moments of the show, with expert sound, light and video design creating a genuinely frightening experience.

Punctuating the various spoken scenes are dance and physical montages to a soundtrack of cheesy retro pop. The result is an injection of much-needed energy to an otherwise relatively static show, the clearly well choreographed numbers jarring with many of the subtler scenes. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing in a show that aims to be structurally dissonant, but it does emphasise the dullness of much of the performance, relying on a few stand out moments to carry the show.

This dullness is perhaps most apparent with the introduction of a third character, a man who offers the characters a life outside of their four walls – quite literally, as the back wall of the stage parts in an awe-inspiring piece of dynamic set design. This is unfortunately one of the last truly memorable moments, as the rest of the show devolves into monotonous philosophising broken only by out of place and strangely drawn out physical comedy skits, with characters moving a heavy safe and picking biscuits out of a precarious pile in the presence of the third character, played with incredible charisma and commendable stage presence (given the dry material) by Wendy Seagar.

This may well be a matter of taste, as I personally tend to steer clear of oddly paced Waiting for Godot-esque dives into the philosophy of death and existence, but Ballyturk did not quite seem to know what it actually was. The highs of the show were very high, with small town life thrown into terrifying absurdity in short episodes, and the technical design of the show being astonishing throughout, but this sadly only served to make the lows fall all the more flat.

[Finley Dickins]

[Image credit: Tron Theatre]

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