The wonderful physicality of Mikel Murfi in an unusual performance space

IN THE CITY MIDDLE

Gate Theatre, the Gate Truck, on tour until August 14
★★★☆☆
In Mikel Murfi’s new solo performance, a middle-aged mover finds himself driven to change his life. He begins to strip himself of his material possessions and packs his vital goods into his truck, before heading off into the unknown. Driven by his own probing conscience (which functions as a narrator and presents itself as a recorded voice-over), he probes his past and assembles his ascetic vision of the future.

The ghost of Enda Walsh, several of whose plays Murfi played, hovers around the edges of this fabulous drama, in which Murfi offers us his man as an Everyman; his struggles with materialism as a representative of a larger human crisis. What does a man need to be happy? What does a man need to live well? The serious philosophy, however, is undermined by a heavy dose of pantomime.

Mikel Murfi: a clown at heart

Murfi, who co-founded the influential Barabbas in the 1990s, is a clown at heart and he brings wonderful physics to his engagement with the unusual performance space: sliding down a ladder with his feet, falling through a hatch in his bunk downstairs, pedaling furiously to power his lamps. However, the balance between the two elements – the playful and the deep – is never fully established, though Murfi improbably disappears into the slipper bath in the final moments, he almost comes close.

Designer Sabine Dargent embraces the cramped simplicity of the Gate Truck, which opens to the side to reveal the essentials of Murfi’s life; it’s also like looking inside your head. Despite its frugality, the set is full of surprises, and Murfi revels in presenting these visually playful revelations. Like a skilled magician, he pulls oversized objects out of his overalls, dips his head in the bath, and reappears with a hat on his head.

Despite the improvised and mobile nature of the stage, the Gate Truck facilitates meticulously professional production. Sinéad Wallace subtly adjusts her lighting design to the darkened skies of a nine-hour show, while Sandra O’Mahony’s sound design is complemented by the cries of seagulls circling overhead. Indeed, these visual and aural reminders of the natural world in the outdoor setting are at the heart of Murfi’s “conversation with himself”. What does a man need to live well? Just open your eyes, begs Murfi, to the world around you.