Cillian Murphy plays the role of his life in Misterman

Lyttelton at the National | By Steve Dinneen

The Lyttelton theatre is a big space for one man to fill – but for the duration of Misterman, there is only one person you will want to look at.

Cillian Murphy plays the God-fearing Tommy Magill, a troubled but well-meaning young man from the Irish isle of Inishfree, who is intent on imposing God’s will on his reluctant neighbours. Holed up in what looks like a warehouse, his only companions are his memories, a stack of tape-recorders and the sounds of a dog that just won’t stop barking. Murphy inhabits dozens of characters throughout the course of the play, bouncing from one to the next with an astonishing energy, reliving snippets of conversation from his seemingly endless recordings. His pursuits start off mundane – taking a trip to pick up Jammy Dodgers; chatting over the fence to his neighbours – but everything is imbued with meaning when filtered through Tommy’s sense of childlike innocence, his belief that he is doing God’s work and his overriding feelings of abandonment in the wake of his father’s death. The sparse stage is a remarkable feat in itself, with piles of junk and glowing crucifixes receding into the distance, warping and shifting as Tommy’s mind becomes increasingly fractured.

The issues Misterman explores are common – madness, loneliness, alienation and loss – but Murphy injects them with an incredible urgency. He is never less than captivating – his standing ovation was well deserved.