The Lieutenant of Inishmore
Noël Coward Theatre
Reviewed – 5th July 2018
“… many hilarious scenes, played out with brittle but unbreakable comic timing by Aidan Turner”
When “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” premiered in 2001 it was considered quite dangerously close to the bone. The peace agreement was only three years old and Martin McDonagh’s dark play struck a chord. Michael Grandage’s revival, at a time when the Troubles seem assigned to history, has lost none of the urgency. If anything, its resonance is more acute than ever in today’s climate.
At its centre, after one has waded through the blood and gore, is the story of Mad Padraic, a terrorist so brutal he’s been thrown out of the IRA. He’s certainly done the rounds – tortured drug dealers, bombed chip shops and drawn up his own list of ‘valid targets’ (a phrase often used by the IRA to justify its murders). Yet, he has a soft spot for his cat, ‘Wee Thomas’. The first time we meet Padraic he is pulling off the toenails of small time crook James (Brian Martin) whose crime is selling marijuana to schoolkids. Interrupted by a phone call from his dad to tell him his beloved cat is sick, he races home to Inishmore to comfort the creature. This is one of many hilarious scenes, played out with brittle but unbreakable comic timing by Aidan Turner. Wearing a blood spattered white vest throughout, his appetite for firing bullets matches the quick-fire delivery of McDonagh’s dialogue.
At times verging on farce, the play is an obvious satirical attack on Irish terrorism that still has bite twenty years after the Good Friday agreement. McDonagh gets to the heart of the issue while being careful to criticise both sides: many of the jokes, at the expense of the IRA, refer to actual atrocities, yet he also refers to Bloody Sunday in which the British Army opened fire on a Civil Rights march, killing over a dozen unarmed civilians. But far from belittling historical fact, turning it into comedy is a far more effective way of urging an audience to question the issues raised.
The comic and the horrific are perfectly balanced in Grandage’s production. It is Pythonesque to the extreme as the laughs pile up thicker than the blood and guts on stage. The blood is thicker than the plot, though. However, there is a comforting predictability to events which lets the audience relax and enjoy the performances. It is no spoiler to reveal that Padraic’s cat is not just sick, but stone-cold dead. Fearful of the reaction this would spark, the comic duo of Donny and Davey (Denis Conway and Chris Walley) try to replace it with another cat, smearing it with boot polish to disguise it as the real thing. This, more than any political ideal, is what precipitates the chaos and Padraic’s trigger-happy finger.
Far from being a vehicle for Turner, this is an ensemble piece with equally strong performances from the supporting cast (not quite upstaged by the dead cats), especially Charlie Murphy as the love interest who lends a spirited, gamine lunacy to her character. Will Irvine, Julian Moore-Cook and Daryl McCormack, as the homicidal gunmen intent on annihilating Padraic, are wonderfully absurd, recalling the Marx Brothers trio while arguing over the accuracy of Karl Marx quotes.
It is a violent play, but one that is clearly anti-violence. It definitely has a screw loose, but it is as tight as a hard-rock rhythm section; the banter ricocheting off the walls with the precision of a trained sniper. This is a high-spirited production which, taken in the spirit intended, is a sheer delight. Black comedy has never been so bright.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Johan Persson
The Lieutenant of Inishmore
Noël Coward Theatre until 8th September
Previously reviewed at this venue