The Lieutenant of Inishmore at the Noël Coward Theatre: Review
I didn't admit to fellow theatregoers that I've never actually seen Poldark.
I imagined their confused faces and bemused responses ("well, why are you here then?") as I took my seat, metres away from Aidan Turner. He is largely known for shirtless beach walking and riding a black horse along the sunny Cornish coastline. Poldark sounds like my cup of tea, I should really watch it.
I wasn't here for Turner, who plays the lead role of Padraic, but for Martin McDonagh, the witty writer known for his black comedies (the film In Bruges and play Hangmen) and his incredibly successful film, Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri. The Lieutenant of Inishmore is the second play in his Aran Islands Trilogy (although the final play is not yet published), following on from The Cripple of Inishmaan which starred Daniel Radcliffe in 2013.
The play opens with Davey, a camp curly-haired local teenager, and Donny, a blunt bearded man who we learn is Padraic's father, looking gravely at a dead cat on the table. Half its head is missing and its brains are falling out. The cat belongs to 'Mad' Padraic ("Isn't it him the IRA wouldn't let in because he was too mad?") and both Donny and Davey fear that they'll end up in a similar state: Padraic is not going to be happy when he hears that someone has killed Wee Thomas, his best friend of fifteen years.
Chris Walley is hilarious as Davey, whose dim innocence and frantic ideas to 'replace' Wee Thomas, along with his audible disbelief of the situation ("will it never fecking end?") bring the audience continuing laughter. Donny (Denis Conway) is excellent as his gruff sidekick, who often seems resigned to his son's insane ways ("weren't you about to shoot me in the fecking head, sure?"). We also meet Mairead (Charlie Murphy), Davey's unnerving younger sister, whose short hair and military wear hint at her skills in combat, which are confirmed when we hear that she can shoot a cow square in the eyes from sixty yards away.
And then there's Padraic himself, a deranged sociopath who spends his time blowing up chip shops as part of a splinter group of the Irish National Liberation Army (which is itself a splinter group of the Irish Republican Army) and "torturing one of them fellas pushes drugs on wee kids". He takes time out from ripping the nails off his latest victim's toes to answer his phone to Donny, who tells him that Wee Thomas is "poorly". This reduces Padraic to a blubbering mess and represents the catalyst (I couldn't help myself) behind Padraic's decision to return to Inishmore, where there is more than just a dead cat waiting for him.
Padraic's childhood home is an ordinary stone-walled interior with dull, brown furniture and limited decoration. This is just as well, for the set becomes adorned with numerous body parts and copious amounts of blood; dismembered arms roll about the floor and gunshots result in Tarantino-esque splatters of red on the wallpaper. The sight of Donny sawing through the spine of one of Padraic's victims is a grisly sight to behold.
This play displays such dizzying lunacy that even extremist politics becomes a cause for belly-laughter. Turner's gormless grin is persuasively psychotic, and it's completely believable, albeit absurd, that hardcore Padraic spares sentimentality for his furry friend - but not for humankind. Yet whilst this satirical attack on the delusions of terrorists is dreadfully funny, it remains aggressively moral. More than once the audience gasped at a scabrous line, delivered as carelessly as a bomb through a window: when Mairead tells her mother she's off to join the INLA, she is told, "good luck and try not to blow up any kids".
It's easy to see why this play did not instantly win over commercial producers - the dialogue, subject matter and stage direction are savage. The standing ovation received at the end of the performance, however, says it all. McDonagh's play deserves this terrific revival by Michael Grandage, as not only is it full of humour and gore, it's clever, too.
It's more than just a bloody comedy.
The Lieutenant of Inishmore runs at the Noël Coward Theatre until 8 September 2018.