The Lieutenant of Inishmore (Noel Coward Theatre)

Posted: July 12, 2018 in Theatre

Writer: Martin McDonagh      Director: Michael Grandage

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Black comedy is becoming an endangered species, threatened by modern forces of political correctness and thin-skinned sensitivity. So thank Heavens for Martin McDonagh. Earlier this year, over-sensitivity to facile accusations of racism could have cost him Oscars for his brilliant film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, but the theatre seems to be a more understanding place for him and this revival of his early work is welcome indeed.

Set at the height of the Irish troubles, the play has none of the lyricism or heart of Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman. Its sole focus is the sheer brutality that underpins terrorist activities and its triumph is to turn such subject matter into, probably, the most hilarious production seen in London since McDonagh’s Hangmen three years ago. The Lieutenant of Inishmore feels like a prototype for the writer’s film In Bruges, in which he satirised the warped codes of morality of the criminal underworld; here, he gives the same treatment to paramilitary groups, specifically a splinter of the IRA, but the general overtones are clear.

Padraic (a swaggering Aiden Turner) is a renegade terrorist, self-appointed lieutenant in his own splinter army, who thinks the IRA too soft, but admits that they make better bombs than him. We first meet him as he is torturing a drug pusher for supplying children, a carnal sin to him when blowing the same children into oblivion with a home-made bomb would be all in a day’s work. The catalyst for the wanton carnage that is to follow is the death of Padraic’s beloved 15-year-old cat, Wee Tom, who he had left in the care of his un-beloved father Donny (Denis Conway). Donny’s incompetent attempts, along with his gormless gay sidekick Davey (Chris Walley), to cover up the circumstances of the cat’s demise take up the first act and Padraic’s bloody revenge the second.

The success of a comedy such as this depends on pace, tone and performances and Michael Grandage’s production gets them all spot-on. Charlie Murphy is particularly striking as Davey’s 16-year-old sister, Mairead, who is even more threatening than her idol and role model, Padraic. The putative lovers share the dream of a free and united Ireland even if there is no one left to live in it. In the closing scenes, the stage takes on the look of an abattoir, human corpses just outnumbering feline ones, and then an audacious final, ironic twist sends us away purring in delight.

Performance date 11 July 2018

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