Monday 5 December 2016

Cillian Murphy turns back the clock

Published 11/06/2011 | 05:00

One night in September, 15 years ago, I squeezed into a tiny, late-night venue off Clarendon Street in Dublin called Da Club for a play by an unknown young writer.

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It was the second Dublin Fringe Festival, comprising a motley collection of raggle-taggle fringe and student companies. The show was by an obscure-named company from Cork, and the two actors were students at UCC. The set, as far I recall, consisted of not much more than a couple of straight-backed chairs.

And then something happened. I remember it as if the young actor literally clawed his way through the walls of the theatre, on to the stage. Slender and strikingly handsome, with wild eyes, he had an uncanny, visceral energy that sent a shock through the room. It was one of those moments that you wait 10 years, through hundreds of shows, to witness.

The actor was Cillian Murphy; the writer was Enda Walsh; and the play was Disco Pigs.

Murphy's sidekick on stage was Eileen Walsh: her talent was less wild, but more finely honed. As a pair, they were extraordinary. They turned Enda Walsh's dystopian vision of a pair of Corkonian outsiders into an Irish answer to A Clockwork Orange.

Disco Pigs made it to the West End, and then on to film, and it catapulted Murphy to stardom: Danny Boyle saw him in the film, and cast him in 28 Days Later. (Walsh, it seemed, got left behind -- though her stage work has since established her as one of the foremost Irish actresses of her generation.)

Murphy is an unusual star. He shuns Hollywood and celebrity, lives quietly in London, and mixes blockbusters such as Batman Begins and Inception with more serious fare such as The Wind That Shakes the Barley, and he still welcomes stage work. (In Druid's production of The Playboy of the Western World a few years ago his bared chest provoked an audible ripple of excitement in the audience.)

Next month, Murphy and Enda Walsh are reunited on the Irish stage, as Walsh directs Murphy in his own play, Misterman, at the Galway Arts Festival. Walsh is now an international star in his own right: his recent plays have received critical acclaim and international awards, and he wrote the film Hunger, which won the Camera d'Or at Cannes. Their combination seems likely to create both a sell-out and a critical success.

colinmurphy@independent.ie

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