By Martin McDonagh. New Theatre. 24 April – 26 May 2018. Directed by Deborah Mulhall
“So all this terror was for nothing,” says Davey, surveying the bloody scene around him. Hidden in the in the last moments of the play, it’s almost a throwaway line, but it’s what the play is all about.
As director Deborah Mulhall says in her program notes: “The Lieutenant of Inishmore was written in the early 90s but in our post 9/11 world, its relevance has broadened and deepened. If anything, it is now more powerful in its attack on idealism and violence.”
Despite its blood and gore – such as scenes involving the entrails of a dead cat, a man hanging upside down with his toe nails pulled out, three characters blinded by a woman with an air gun and the chopping up of corpses – the play is a comedy that sends up the Irish National Liberation Army.
Padraic: … I’ve been thinking of forming a splinter group. (Pause.) I know we’re already a splinter group, but there’s no law says you can’t splinter from a splinter group. A splinter group is the best kind of group to splinter from anyways. It shows you know your own mind.
. . . these eight performers give this play the energy and pace necessary to sustain its grisly humour and malevolent messag . . .
Even though British director Trevor Nunn, refused to stage it, saying that its production “might hamper the peace process in Northern Ireland and put the actors at serious personal risk,” the play opened at Stratford in 2001 and has been produced over and over again since, winning an Obie for McDonagh in 2006.
It loses none of its power or very black humour in this pacey, wickedly depraved production, which the New Theatre aptly advertises as a “brazen and unapologetically blood-curdling farce (that) combines comedy and violence in a darkly funny portrait of rivalries among terrorists for whom killing, torturing and bombing are just day-jobs”.
The set (Tom Bannerman) is a series of blotchy angular walls, one suspended by chains. Priyanka Martin’s lighting heightens the seediness and Irish music (Patrick Eades) introduces the macabre opening scene, where Donny (Jim McCrudden) and Davey (Patrick Holman) survey the dead body of Wee Thomas, a black cat Davey has brought in from the road.
This scene is integral in establishing the tempo and mood of the play and McCrudden and Holman never falter. They find the Irish cadence in the lines. Their accents are clear. Their comedic timing sets the pace that makes the macabre events that follow funny in their gruesomeness. McCrudden brings the strength of experienced characterisation to the role, using his eyes and face as expressively as his voice.
Holman, fresh out of the NIDA Open Actor’s course, is someone to watch. He is an intuitive performer, whose timing and expression find Davey’s is naïve insightfulness and innocent perceptiveness.
Lloyd Allison-Young scores the envied role of Padraic, the hardline terrorist, considered “too mad” for the IRA, who is torturing a drug dealer one moment and agitated by news that his cat, Wee Thomas is “poorly” the next. Allison-Young is lithe and agile and gives the character strength and physicality as well as convincing malice.
Davey’s sixteen-year-old, air rifle toting sister, Mairead is played with contemptuous malevolence by Alice Birbara. This is a great role and Birbara obviously relishes it. Clear of voice and with a strong stage appeal, she is the makes her bid to join up with Padriac with blatant seductiveness and patriotic zeal.
Michael Becker plays James, the drug dealer hanging above the stage as Padraic tortures him. Steve Corner, Nicholas Sinclair and Angus Evans play the vindictive members of INLA (a splinter group of the IRA) who have killed Wee Thomas in order to lure Padraic back to Inishmore so they can assassinate him.
With Mulhall’s tight direction, these eight performers give this play the energy and pace necessary to sustain its grisly humour and malevolent message about the rising use of violence in the contemporary world.