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BWW Review: Martin McDonagh's Darkly Comic HANGMEN is Enjoyably Discomforting


It might be easier to pity the hardworking gentleman at the core of Martin McDonagh's new darkly comic drama, who loses his job when his employer eliminates his position, if it weren't for the fact that the function of his profession was to kill people.

Mark Addy and Johnny Flynn
(Photo: Ahron R. Foster)

When we meet Harry Wade (a gruff but noble teddy bear in an excellent turn by Mark Addy) in the first scene of Hangmen, he isn't quite the center of attention. That dubious honor goes to a fellow named James Hennessy (Gilles Geary), who pleads for his life and insists he isn't guilty of the crime for which he's about to be strung up.

But keeping your emotions in check while hearing such wails is part of Harry's profession. What he doesn't seem prepared for, however, is Hennessy's complaint that his execution only merits the man regarded as the Crown's second-best hangman.

"They could've at least sent Peirrepoint," the doomed man scowls, wounding poor Harry's pride.

"If you'd've just tried to relax you could've been dead by now," Harry's assistant Syd (Reece Shearsmith) advises.

The audience sees Harry dutifully carrying out his service to the Crown by securing the noose around Hennessy's neck and dropping the trap floor beneath him. Then it's time for breakfast.

That first scene takes place in 1963, two years before the United Kingdom abolishes the use of Harry and other Hangmen to execute convicts.

The story then skips to 1965, in the dark and dreary-looking pub (great work by set designer Anna Fleischle) where Harry and his wife Alice (Sally Rogers) and young daughter Shirley (Gaby French) pull pints for a colorful collection of regulars (Richard Hollis, Billy Carter and John Horton).

David Lansbury, Gaby French, Johnny Flynn,
Richard Hollis, John Horton and Billy Carter
(Photo: Ahron R. Foster)

After voicing his opinion about the end of hangings to reporter Clegg (Owen Campbell), and putting his foot slightly into his mouth regarding the Hennessy case, the ensuing newspaper article prompts a visit from an ominous character named Peter Mooney (Johnny Flynn, oozing creepiness). Styled in the manner of The Beatles, with a nice suit and scraggly long hair, Mooney sticks out from the rest as he drinks his pints and munches on peanuts.

As the plot develops, and Mooney's behavior appears more and more suspicious, Harry begins thinking the worst his visitor, and apparently, his old habit dies hard.

But as this is a play by Martin McDonagh (THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE, THE LIEUTENANT OF INISHMORE, A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE), violence is accompanied by realistically dark humor, played expertly by director Matthew Dunster's company.

A smashing West End success, available tickets are scarce for Hangmen's current Atlantic Theater engagement and rumors of a Broadway transfer are buzzing about for this enjoyably discomforting production.

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From This Author Michael Dale