It is often in satire that we learn the most about a particularly disturbing subject, allowing us to question our own beliefs while at the same time seeing the ridiculousness of a situation fully exposed. Martin McDonagh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore is a prime example, because what better way to unmask the senselessness of terrorism than to turn it into a gloriously dark comedy.
The play was first staged in the early 2000’s enjoying success on both sides of the Atlantic. Though, written and set in the early Nineties it serves as a stark reminder of life before The Good Friday Agreement, and horrific events on both sides of the Irish Sea. Michael Grandage directs this revival, but where the words and actions still relate to Irish terrorism, the meaning feels far more pertinent to the global threat of religious fanaticism.
Mad Padraic, who has been kicked out the IRA and formed his own splinter group, is just about to slice a nipple off the upside down James (Brian Martin) when he receives a call on his suitably nineties mobile phone. The news is not good, Wee Thomas, his only friend for fifteen years is poorly – actually his head is caved in and “brains bubbling” but his father is too afraid to tell him. James is spared as Padraic heads back to the Galway Island of his birth to tend to his unwell cat.
Meanwhile back in Inishmore, Donny and Davey are desperately trying to cover up what has happened, lest they feel Padraic’s wrath, Davey’s sister is shooting cows eyes to protest the meat industry, and ‘one eye’ Christy is in town with two of his comrades to unseat Padraic, so they can form their own splinter group.
The Lieutenant of Inishmore is parody at its finest, bordering on the farcical it is uproariously funny, indeed it elicits that guilty kind of laugh where we wonder if this is something we should really find funny. It is gratifyingly gory and when a gun is fired, blood sprays across the stage, Christopher Oram certainly hasn’t skimped on the visual effects.
Aidan Turner takes on the lead role of Padraic, and while many a Poldark fan will be turning up to admire his performance, they may be surprised to find a very different character on stage. Turner’s performance is astounding, giving the deranged insurgent a childlike innocence with incredible nuance weaved in to the role. The image of Turner nursing the freshly exhumed feline will be one of the enduring images from the West End this year.
The funniest scenes come from those involving Donny (Denis Conway) and Davey, as the somewhat odd-couple find themselves being blamed for death of poor Wee Thomas. In the opening scene I found myself slightly concerned that Chris Walley couldn’t pull off the Davey character, but that fear was put to rest quicker than the dead cat. As their situation got worse, Walley’s performance got better and better, opening up to the stand-out performance of the night.
McDonagh’s writing is so accomplished you find yourself totally absorbed in the story, the value placed on the life of animals and humans serving as a vehicle for a broader message. All while the authentic stone wall cottage set and brisk plot movement makes this a whirlwind of blood, carnage and jocularity. The Lieutenant of Inishmore is a cleverly written and wonderfully staged parody that will leave you purring with delight.