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BWW REVIEW: THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN Shines A Light On Life In Ireland To Expose the Flawed Nature of Humanity

BWW REVIEW: THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN Shines A Light On Life In Ireland To Expose the Flawed Nature of Humanity

Tuesday 23rd July 2019, 7:30pm, Old Fitz Theatre

Martin McDonagh's dark comic style shines in Mad March Hare Theatre Company and Red Line Productions' presentation of THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN. Directed by Claudia Barrie, this is an amusing time capsule of remote Irish life while it considers who are viewed as disabled and how those people are treated.

The first of McDonagh's Aran Islands Trilogy, THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN centers on the life of orphan "cripple" Billy Claven (William Rees) and the events on the island of Inishmaan around the time that 1934 Robert J. Flaherty's 'narrative documentary' MAN OF ARAN was shot on the neighboring island of Inishmore. Restricted to a life of taunts and teasing from the small community, Billy sees the news of the filmmaker casting locals as an opportunity to escape the poverty, boredom of watching cows, and listening to town gossip JohnnyPateen Michael's (Laurence Coy) incessant talking. He runs away from his 'Aunt' Eileen (Sarah Aubrey) and 'Aunt' Kate (Megan O'Connell)) with local bully and oddly the object of his affection, Helen McCormick (Jane Watt) and her dopey younger brother Bartley (Josh Anderson).

Production designer Brianna Russell has artfully created the impression of the heavy stone structures of Inishmaan with thick walls of what appears to be rough crumpled butcher paper. There is a rough homespun aesthetic with repurposed objects that transform the stage from the counter and shelves of the Aunties' general store to the boat sheds, bedrooms and even a makeshift cinema. The transformation of set pieces to create boatman BabbyBobby Bennett's (John Harding)'s currach is inspired. Emily Brayshaw's costuming similarly shows a simplicity of life along with the poverty of the characters with patched, stained and ill-fitting clothes dominated by the heavy fabrics necessary for the remote islands which form part of a buffer between mainland Ireland and the North Atlantic Ocean.

Barrie has captured the essence of the remote Irish community, which too this day remains as one of the few places relatively untouched by modern influence in its ability to retain the Irish language in daily use. Voice and dialect coach Amanda Stephens-Lee has worked with the cast to develop lovely thick accents although this has often been interpreted as needing to shout to enhance their Irishness which, as William Rees shows in his more subdued expression of Billy's delivery, is not required.

Rees, a young man who lives with a disability, delivers a wonderful performance as Billy. He exhibits Billy's quiet sensitivity along with resigned resilience to the insults and teasing to further highlight how awful the townsfolk are, even his 'Aunts' who fail to see his interest in cattle as an escape from a monotonous life and the noise of home. His scene of the aspiring actor's failed career, finding himself alone in a lodging house away from the care of his Aunts is particularly moving. He ensures that Billy is a likable character in contrast to the rest of the residents of Inishmaan so that when he does hurt his Aunts by running away, he can be forgiven for his lapse in judgement whilst others characters are less redeemable.

Other performances of note are Sarah Aubrey's intense and judgmental Aunt Eileen who captures the intimidating spinster with scowls and growls, particularly towards the indecisive Bartley and cocky JohnnyPateen who never seems to pay for anything in his ridiculous trade of gossip for groceries. The shift from strict and formal noticeably shifts once consumed with worry when Billy runs away to the point that her sweets obsession is comically juvenile. Jane Watt creates a classic bully in her expression of Helen, ensuring that whilst living in the small town, is just as evil as the mean girls and queen bees of contemporary cosmopolitan stories, reminding us that humans, regardless of where they are can still have the same traits. She balances the bravado with an underlying impression that the young girl damaged mentally, having been subjected to sexual harassment and possibly even abuse which has led to an automatic defensiveness which manifests as aggression against anyone, particularly men. Her obsession with retribution, justified or not, tends towards a psychopathic nature and Watt presents this with a glee, particularly as she carries out her favored egg-based abuse.

THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN is an amusing well crafted dark comedy that draws on the presentation of the uncomfortable scenes of 'friends' and family continually subjecting Billy to verbal abuse to make people consider how and why they think it is ok to pick on someone for a flaw they can't fix when they have faults of their own that could be rectified. Well worth seeing provided you try to sit a bit further back to hopefully balance the impact of the shouty scenes although that may be a challenge in the intimate space of the Old Fitz Theatre.

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From This Author Jade Kops