BWW Review: THE LIEUTENANT OF INISHMORE, Noel Coward Theatre
I didn't know it was possible for a play this bloody to be so funny. Martin McDonagh's The Lieutenant of Inishmore is a dark comedy about terrorism and violence set in Ireland in 1993. When Irish National Liberation Army member Padraic finds out his beloved cat is poorly, he immediately heads home only to find the cat already dead and violence ensues. It's an enthusiastically gory piece that isn't for the faint of heart.
The play opens with local boy Davey showing Donny that his cat has been killed. However, Donny reveals that the cat actually belonged to his son, Padraic, who was deemed "too mad" to be a part of the IRA and is away from home bombing chip shops.
We soon meet Padraic, who is torturing a drug pusher, chained upside down, by taking off his toenails. However, he is distracted by a call from his father telling him his beloved Wee Thomas is "poorly" and lets the man go, giving him bus money for the ride home as he cries about his cat.
This interaction is a fairly good indication of Padraic's character for the rest of the show, flitting from frighteningly callous and gruesome to oddly sensitive and considerate. He heads home as Donny and Davey attempt to find a way to hide Wee Thomas's death from him and Davey's sister, Maidred, gets ready to convince him that he should let her join the INLA. As Davey says, "Worse and worse this story gets" from there.
This play, by the writer of The Cripple of Inishmaan and recent film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, was first produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2001, though it was written in the 1990s when the IRA was still very much in the news. It transferred to London before premiering on Broadway in 2006. Many productions have taken place in the States and across the world in recent years, as terrorism has become an even more relevant topic since it first premiered.
The cast are impressive, without a single weak link, under Michael Grandage's direction. I'm not sure how Brian Martin manages to bring a rather funny performance as James, despite being hung upside down for his entire scene.
Aidan Turner, well known for playing the lead on TV series Poldark, is strangely charming as Padraic. The way he can convincingly move from crying over his dead cat to raging with a gun to someone's head in a matter of seconds is impressive. He brings an energy and vitality to the character that makes his madness believable and wonderfully dangerous.
Denis Conway gives a solid performance as Padraic's father, Donny, and has great comedic timing. His palpable fear of and uneasiness about his son in the first scene helps build the character of Padraic before he ever sets foot onstage. Charlie Murphy is delightful as the young neighbour Mairead, who is well known for shooting cows' eyes out and fancies Padraic. Her cold passion for a free Ireland creates a contrast with her lovely voice as she sings Irish ballads.
Recent RADA graduate Chris Walley plays Davey, the boy who has the misfortune to find the dead cat and get involved in the chaos. His dreadful mullet draws laughs from the audience and he is amazingly expressive of Davey's fear of Padraic and his sister Mairead. I actually saw Walley in a show at RADA just earlier this year, but you would never be able to guess this is his West End debut.
The cast is rounded out by Will Irvine, Daryl McCormack, and Julian Moore-Cook who play three INLA members who don't approve of Padraic's methods. All their scenes were hilarious and McCormack especially has a knack for comedy.
The set, designed by Christopher Oram, is a rustic looking home that becomes splattered by blood by the end of the two hours. It provides an ideally domestic background to the gory action of the show. I will say that from near the front of the stalls, some of the goriness looked rather obviously fake, but it added to the comedy of the bloodshed being witnessed.
The Lieutenant of Inishmore is irreverently funny, even as it manages to shock the audience with the plot's twists and turns. (There was a moment that evoked some audible gasps and even small screams from the house.) It pokes fun at so-called revolutionaries who readily torture other men and plant bombs in chip shops but shed tears at killing cats.
I don't normally expect to laugh about dead cats or the hacking up of dead bodies, but with this show, it's hard not to.
Photo Credit: Johan Persson