Robert Tanitch reviews The Lieutenant at Inishmore at Noel Coward Theatre, London, WC2
I am not surprised, given the political climate in the 1990’s, that the National Theatre and the Royal Court Theatre should have rejected Martin McDonagh’s farce at the expense of Irish terrorism.
The Lieutenant of Inishmore, relentlessly and sometimes stomach-churning violent, was written in anger in 1994 at what had been going on in Ireland for the last 25 years or so; but the important thing for McDonagh is that the anger is expressed through comedy, satire and farce.
There had been riots when the plays of Synge and O’Casey, similarly violent, were first produced In Ireland. McDonagh didn’t want his play produced in Ireland.
The play was finally taken up by the RSC in 2001 and staged at Stratford and then at the Barbican Pit. Even then, following good notices from the critics, many West End theatres and managers turned it down. It transferred to the Garrick Theatre.
Michael Grandage who directed Daniel Radcliffe (of Harry Potter fame) in Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Innishmaan, now directs Aidan Turner (of Poldark fame) in The Lieutenant of Inishmore, which is good for the box-office.
If you have seen McDonagh’s plays, The Beauty Queen of Leenane and Hangman, or his films, In Bruges and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, you will know what to expect.
The script admits the play is full of incidents that will put tourists off Ireland and it is a remark which gets one of the biggest laughs of the evening.
The final scene is strewn with body parts, hacked, sawn and chopped, which is not for the squeamish.
McDonagh has described The Lieutenant of Inishmore as “a violent play that is wholeheartedly anti-violence”. The play is wittily dedicated to his cat.
Aidan Turner is cast as Mad Padraic and very good he is, too, as the self-appointed lieutenant in the Irish National Liberation Army, who is so mad that even the IRA won’t let him join their ranks.
So we can easily guess how Padraic is going to react when he learns that his cat, his only friend for fifteen years, is dead.
We witness Padraic torturing a drug pusher. The man is hanging upside down, his body bloodied and bruised. He has already lost two toe nails and looks as if he might lose a nipple as well.
Denis Conway is dad. Chris Walley, straight out of RADA, and his stage debut, is the lad. They are both very funny.
The Irish were out in force tonight and they and the audience took the violence in their stride.