The Lieutenant of Inishmore at the Noel Coward Theatre
A dead black cat is not a good omen with which to start any story. But Martin McDonagh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore derives inconceivable pleasure from a tale of mounting misfortune and insanity. The dark satire, set in the midst of the late-20th century Irish conflict, is a warped and sensational triumph of irrational violence leading to irrepressible laughs. Aidan Turner, star of hit BBC series Poldark, solidly embraces the extremes of this production with the support of a brilliant cast. Director Michael Grandage leads a mind-blowing – actually, more brain-blowing – show.
Mad Padraic dreams of a united Ireland, free from English dominion. To be part of this mission, he has joined the INLA – a splinter group of the IRA – but in the end he proves too mad for any movement. When his only friend the cat Wee Thomas is found dead, the protagonist sets out to seek revenge for the poor creature, ready to point his gun even at the head of his own father. In the meantime, his military companions Christy, Brendan and Joey arrive at Inishmore for business. But what are they really up to?
Turner enjoys every single moment in the blood-stained undershirt of his badass character, with two hefty guns always at hand. His performance is strong and the actor has an excellent command of the stage. But the infamous madness of Padraic takes over the set even before the protagonist’s first appearance, highlighting the great support provided by the well-meaning pair Donny and Davey. The latter – interpreted by a brilliant Chris Walley – with his girly hair and feeble movements, sits in perfect contrast with the carnage and machos surrounding him. Indeed, this is a play working on paradoxes and extremes: the further the baseless violence and absurdity go, the more hilarious it turns out. Davey’s sister Mairead (Charlie Murphy) instead plays a bit too much into aggressive independent traits, appearing as the only vaguely credible character and thus out of tune with the senseless macabre storyline.
The scene changes – and the use of a gloomy backdrop for several of the sequences – are kept simple thanks to a swift curtain fall, which, especially in the increasingly gory final part, accentuates the “surprise”. No attempt has been made to spare us from pools of blood and corpses, and the effect is terrifically good. This bold production is not ashamed to address the theme of terrorism and, remarkably, make an insane satire out of it.
Very little of the dialogue – definitely not that of the hot-head Padraic – is less dynamic than expected once the over-enthusiastic and anxious overall tone sets in. Opening with tragedy embodied in an animal corpse, the show rolls steadily on with adrenaline-fuelled ups and downs, as the gunshots echo and blood splatters.
Photo: Johan Persson
The LIeutenant of Inishmore is at the Noel Coward Theatre from 5th July until 8th September 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.