Hangmen at the Royal Court Theatre
Hangmen is the title of maverick Martin McDonagh’s new play, a story about one semi-retired hangman (Harry), his dissolute pub, and his daughter’s plight with a new stranger (Mooney). Although advertised as a serious drama about the miscarriage of justice, only the ghoulish and glib fate of McDonagh’s right-hand presses against the surface.
The town is Oldham, Greater Manchester, the northern dialect is rife, the rain is thick, and it’s the sultry 60s. The majority of riff-raffing takes place in Harry’s pub (David Morrisey) with droopy locals (Graeme Hawley, Ryan Pope, Simon Rouse) chatting their lives away and a detective (Ralph Ineson), for no apparent reason, listening from across the bar in a depraved manner. The material quickly becomes somewhat stock and sparse as it favours backend ruminations over clear plotting. However, the audience enjoys chortling at the joviality of seeing archetypes put under the grinder of McDonagh’s sacrilegious sensibility. And there are no shortage of jokes spanning Nazism, racism, misogyny, disability, and even frequent doses of ancestral discrimination. The Royal Court is certainly a writer’s theatre.
Matthew Dunster, despite theatrical demands, does manage to realise and convey every beat in the play, often rendering the absurdity of occasional behaviours into alluring attractions. Yet, more often than not, the grandiose gatherings will dwarf any nuanced opportunities. The performances are steady to find their feet, but Johnny Flynn (Mooney) comes out after the interval with a new fuse, not afraid to break the circuits. He sits in a café, under scrutiny, the stage suspended mid-air and framed by a black backdrop. It’s as if cinema took off in the theatre and one is witnessing Michael Fassbender’s long take with the priest in Hunger. The lighting matches, the set-up is similar, and the passage is spellbinding.
Reece Shearsmith is great opposite David Morrisey as his accomplice (Syd) and their chemistry is well called for amidst a crooked ensemble. The staging can seem awkward, or maybe that is the result of an entirely stroppy play. It is a mixed set of tools, to say the least. A wafer biscuit with cheese, the sort of thing McDonagh himself might say.
Is it inspiring? No. Is it emotive? No. Is it entertaining? Yes.
Photos: Simon Annand
Hangmen is on at the Royal Court Theatre from 10th September until 10th October 2015, for further information or to book visit here.