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A CurtainUp London Review
The Lieutenant of Inishmore
When Martin McDonagh's new play,The Lieutenant of Inishmore, premiered at the Royal Shakespeare Company's theatre in Stratford, it caused a sensation. People walked out because of the violence depicted on stage. Forewarned is forearmed, so I had a deliberately light lunch before catching a matinée of this second in a trilogy, the first being The Cripple of Inishmaan. What I found was a blisteringly funny, black comedy. My fellow critics are divided between those whose sensibilities were offended by the torture and carnage and literal butchery on stage, and those who were able to laugh at the hapless bunch of would-be terrorists and residents of Inishmore.
The play is set in 1993 in County Galway on the rocky island of Inishmore, off the coast of Ireland, an isolated country area accessed from the mainland by ferry. McDonagh's central character is a terrorist who has no feeling for those he tortures or blows up but who has an obsessive sentiment for animals, in this case, his pet cat. It is this juxtaposition which is the source of much of the humour.
The play opens in stomach churning fashion with the intestines of a dead cat pouring onto a table centre stage but this is just a taste of what is to come. The antics of Davey (Owen Sharpe) and Donny, Padraic's father (Trevor Cooper) to conceal the death of Padraic's beloved kitty, Wee Thomas, from Padraic (David Wilmot) form the central plot. I do not want to give the game away but suffice it to say that this involves a marmalade cat and black boot polish. Add to this mix a feisty sixteen year old girl and wanna-be freedom fighter/ terrorist Mairead (Kerry Condon) who fancies Padraic because of his reputation for chip shop bombings, and a trio of Northern Irish men hunting Padraic for more misunderstandings and cock ups. With the possible exception of Mairead, it is the lack of intelligence of most of McDonagh's characters that results in mishaps and sets up the comedy.
The second scene has James (Conor Moloney), a small time marijuana dealer to university students, suspended upside down on a chain with his toenails being removed. The idea was to eliminate dangerous drug dealers subverting the schoolchildren of Ireland but Padraic's overzealous ineptitude gets him in trouble with his own side. He is hunted by the three men from the north because he has cut the nose off Skank Toby, a drug dealer and major contributor to INLA (Irish National Liberation Army) funds, and incidentally fed the nose to Skank Toby's dog, resulting in the worst crime of all, Toby's nose choked the dog to death.
The performances are all excellent — particularly David Wilmot as the double holstered Padraic whose motto is "shoot first, ask idiotic questions later". He is volatile and extremely dangerous. When the INLA arrive at the house, he says "Come in ahead for yourselves. I'm just in the middle of shooting me Dad." Davey and Donny make a pair of comic incompetents, Donny looks like a Hells Angel gone to seed and Davey is a country boy who is very precious about his pony tailed hair but rides a Barbie pink push bike. Kerry Condon as Mairead has all the enthusiasm of a young woman trying to succeed in a man's world — think Joan of Arc. Some of the funniest lines are when her sexual approaches to Padraic are met with the suggestion that she should grow her hair or wear a frock or learn how to cook and sew.
In design terms it mostly takes place in and around Donny's cottage with its broken down furniture and general filth but the recreation of bloody corpses of cats and humans is authentic, gutsy and makes the film Seven look genteel. The lighting too helps here. Wilson Milam, an American directs and he never shies away from the torture, brutality and the carnage. According to the Guardian, The Lieutenant of Inishmore has not yet found backing to transfer to a West End London theatre but if it does, it would probably attract a young audience and maybe even one new to serious theatre.
Links to other McDonagh Plays
The Beauty Queen of Leenane
The Lonesome West
The Cripple of Inishmaan
A Skull in Connemara
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by
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