Review Roundup: HANGMEN By Martin McDonagh Opens on Broadway

The cast features "Game of Thrones'" Alfie Allen in his Broadway debut opposite David Threlfall.

By: Apr. 21, 2022

Martin McDonagh's Olivier Award-winning and New York Drama Critics' Circle Award-winning comedy Hangmen opens at Broadway's Golden Theatre tonight! Read the reviews!

In his small pub in the North of England in the mid-1960s, Harry is something of a local celebrity. But what's the second best hangman in England to do on the day they've abolished hanging? Amongst the cub reporters and pub regulars, people are dying to hear Harry's reaction to the news when an intriguing stranger, Mooney, from London -with a very different wardrobe and motive - enters their world.

Playwright Martin McDonagh, director Matthew Dunster, set and costume designer Anna Fleischle and lighting designer Joshua Carr joined the cast which features "Game of Thrones'" Alfie Allen (Mooney) in his Broadway debut opposite David Threlfall (Harry), whose performance as "Smike" was critically acclaimed in both the original London and Broadway productions of Nicholas Nickleby and is returning to Broadway for the first time in 25 years.

Hangmen also features two-time Olivier Award winner Tracie Bennett (Alice), Owen Campbell (Clegg), Jeremy Crutchley (Inspector Fry), Olivier Bursary Award winner Gaby French (Shirley), Josh Goulding (Hennessy), John Hodgkinson (Albert), Richard Hollis (Bill), John Horton (Arthur), Olivier Award and Drama Desk Award winner Andy Nyman (Syd), and Ryan Pope (Charlie), with Sebastian Beacon, Peter Bradbury, Gina Costigan, Katie Fabel and Colin McPhillamy.

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

Jesse Green, The New York Times: That this feeling of disproportion is fainter in the Broadway production than in 2018 may provide a clue to the answer. The cast, with just four holdovers, is certainly better tuned now, and Threlfall makes a big difference. Also successfully amped up for Broadway are the sinister sets and pinpoint costumes by Anna Fleischle. But it's more than that. Four years later, the world feels coarser - perhaps it always does - and not just because death has become much more visible in streets and wards and wars. So has people's indifference to it, and to all kinds of suffering and unfairness. McDonagh's cynicism feels closer to our own, or rather we to it. "Hangmen" now plays less like a clever exercise and more like news, with an unnerving headline. Garden-variety amorality is not a far throw from violent psychopathology, it reports, or for that matter from what we call justice.

Adam Feldman, Time Out New York: After his success in film, including Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, McDonagh seems to relish the chance to work in a less realistic medium (though that movie was hardly cinéma vérité). But rather than pushing that potential into new territory-as in his 2003 masterwork, The Pillowman-McDonagh winks at conventions even as he uses them to cover up a thin and implausible story. Dunster's staging adds to the sense of artifice, with lurching shifts of mood lights, Taratino-esque music cues and a physical space that works directly against the would-be suspense of the play's denouement. For a while, yes, it seems cool: Hangmen has plenty of twists. But the twists wind up forming a sloppy noose that is strong enough only to leave the play dangling, without a lethal snap, when the bottom falls out in the end.

Matt Windman, AMNY: Now, following another two-year wait, "Hangmen" is finally opening on Broadway - but without Johnny Flynn, who gave an electrifying, star-making performance as Mooney in the London and Off-Broadway productions. (In 2020, Mooney was played by Dan Stevens of "Downton Abbey.") Notwithstanding, Allen and the rest of the current cast are great (though Threlfall appeared to be experiencing some vocal difficulties at my performance) and the lively production (directed by Matthew Dunster, with a rich scenic design) finds an ideal balance between roaring entertainment and grim uneasiness.

Jonathan Mandell, New York Theater: There's craftmanship in the way the playwright is able to maintain suspense in a plot full of surprises. There's also cleverness in the dialogue, and in the wacky characters, reflecting McDonagh's hip wit in the bad boy tradition of Joe Orton. The production design is flawless; Anna Fleischle's costumes and especially her sets are solid. But this time around, I found "Hangmen" ultimately less than satisfying; all the caveats I expressed four years ago still exist, and now loom larger for me.

Melissa Rose Bernardo, New York Stage Review: Is Mooney a pervert? A murderer? Or just a really strange chap who likes to wind people up? We'll never know. On all of those subjects, the clever McDonagh leaves the audience, you'll pardon the pun, hanging.

Frank Scheck, New York Stage Review: Mixing pitch black comedy with genuine terror, Hangman reveals McDonagh at his most technically accomplished, although not his most profound. Overlong at nearly two-and-a-half hours, the play feels like an extended episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, complete with twist ending. Despite its longueurs, however, it's wonderfully entertaining, thanks to the playwright's gift for acerbically funny and ever-surprising dialogue, the superb performances by its well-honed ensemble, and Matthew Dunster's marvelous staging that fully immerses you in the morbidly funny proceedings. Anna Fleischle's set design, featuring inventive use of the overhead space, is a stunner. While the first act drags at times, the second barrels along at breakneck pace, the highlight being the unexpected arrival of Pierrepoint himself (John Hodgkinson, stealing the show in just a few minutes), who makes clear his intense unhappiness at the way Harry spoke about him in his interview.

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: In the Atlantic Theater production, some of the pub's hangers-on were played too broadly. A few of them seemed left over from McDonagh's "Leenane" trilogy. That's not the case on Broadway. Owen Campbell, Jeremy Crutchley, Josh Goulding, Richard Hollis, John Horton and Ryan Pope complete the near-perfect ensemble under Dunster's direction. "Hangmen" is this Broadway season's best play.

Chris Jones, The Daily News: Is he a relative of someone Harry hanged looking for revenge? A reporter looking for a story? A devil come to take Harry's soul? All three of those options and plenty more beside remain on the table throughout this play and I'll keep shut on the truth, finally revealed in a way that will, I swear, turn you into the sort of goop you typically find on the head of a foaming pint of bitter.

Juan A. Ramirez, Theatrely: Fleischle's set, stunningly lit with bisexual lighting by Joshua Carr, screams money - the turn from prologue to pub is mesmerizing - but not distractingly or crassly so. Under Matthew Dunster's attentive direction, McDonagh's play unfolds with the breezy, engaging tension of the mod rock guitars that punctuate scenes (sound design by Ian Dickinson for Autograph). Hangmen is the kind of play we don't really see anymore. There's no immediate hook for our present day situation; it doesn't bend over backwards to make itself relevant. But it's a welcome callback to the plays that built contemporary theatre: sturdy, well-observed, and vividly performed.

Elysa Gardner, The New York Sun: "Hangmen," Mr. McDonagh's first play to open on Broadway in eight years, easily ranks with his best work. Hilarious, searing, and poignant, the play presents a savage indictment of capital punishment without ever stooping to preach - a practice foreign to Mr. McDonagh.

David Cote, Observer: What keeps you focused on Hangmen is the retro mood and the superb ensemble, not innovative storytelling or genuine insight into character. His plays are tightly constructed, with dialogue that uses repetition and profanity to musical effect, but they are woefully mechanical. Once you realize that McDonagh's M.O. is crudely to undermine expectations, you expect the undermining, and boredom sets in. After nearly 30 years, his view of humanity has barely evolved: men are brutal bastards, women aren't much better, law and justice are a farce, and I'm rather handsome.

Beati D. Choudhury, Did They Like It?: With its tired jokes and dated humor, Hangmen provides an easy laugh, but it's a difficult watch for those of us trying to be better audiences; questioning and interrogating works of culture that don't quite sit right with our conversations around contemporary politics.

Diep Tran, Broadway News: "Hangmen" also contains some hanging plot threads that are not truly resolved or adequately explained. There may be a theme here about miscarriage of justice and toxic masculinity, but don't strain your neck too hard looking for it. A looser directorial hand would have made these nitpicks moot, because if there's a commitment to the ridiculous, a coherent story is less important. As it is, "Hangmen" thoroughly wrings its premise dry, but anyone trying to find deeper meaning in McDonagh's play will be left hanging.

Howard Miller, Talkin' Broadway: Something is amiss overall. Hangmen does not work the way it did at the Atlantic Theatre Company, and there is more to it than the transfer to a larger Broadway venue. The play requires taut and cohesive directing and a uniformity of style to hold it together. Here, it seems as though the actors have been left to their own devices to figure out their characters and how best to perform them. It takes a lot of work to pull things back together after a break of four years, and an ensemble work like this requires exquisite timing and consistency, elements that are, alas, in short supply.

Greg Evans, Deadline: With a sure eye for finding the laughs and the shocks in McDonagh's universe, director Dunster and his cast inhabit this little corner of the world with total conviction, conveying the larger implications - safe to say Harry's resolute convictions about guilt, justice and the unshakeable rightness of his life's work aren't the mere personal quirks of an isolated individual - while maintaining the specificity of a seemingly safe little cocoon where everybody knows your name, if not your secrets.

Helen Shaw, Vulture: The nasty-twisty plot works best in the first half, when its goads are sharpest. McDonagh needs speed and an unbalanced audience to keep his pressures high, but the last third of his play wobbles woozily, like a coaster that's gone rolling off the bar. Some of this is the fault of director Matthew Dunster's production, though it looks absolutely gorgeous (Anna Fleischle designed both brown set and brown costumes) and sounds incredible (Ian Dickinson can be thanked for many of the jump-scare transitions). Casting is everything in a show so reliant on its two leads, and here, as was the case when it played downtown, the balance isn't right.

Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly: Death is an ever-present character too, or at least the specter that (no pun) hangs over it all. That's par for the course with McDonagh, though the cheerful brutality of his work can sometimes betray a certain emptiness at the core; what are the stakes, when even a fatal miscarriage of justice is played for punchlines? Hangmen suffers from some of that dissonance, and its longer, talkier interludes serve more as amiable time fillers than story engine. But there's real pathos in between the lines and endless pints of lager - even maybe a little heart.

Johnny Oleksinski, The New York Post: You're absolutely wracked with guilt at "Hangmen" - from laughing so hard at the many, many inappropriate jokes. A crude sight gag near the end had me practically dry heaving. That nonstop naughtiness is what makes Martin McDonagh's killer satire the best new play on Broadway by a green mile. The Brit's comedy, which opened Thursday night at the Golden Theatre, is a heaping scoop of jaw-droppers and taboos - albeit with a sophisticated takeaway about the justice system - that'll make wimps clutch their pearls for dear life. The rest of us can't help but chuckle at the macabre madness.

Lane Williamson, The Stage: Having turned his attention to film work for a while, it's a thrill to have a McDonagh play on stage. Hangmen is dark, well-plotted and often hilarious. It's a shame that two of the pieces aren't clicking together to deliver on its promise.

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