Martin McDonagh is well known for the dark and often brutal tone his plays hinge on, and The Lieutenant of Inishmore, part of his trilogy set on the Aran Islands in Galway, is no exception. A black comedy set during The Troubles, it centers on the maniacal Republican Padraic, played by Aidan Turner, and his return home after his beloved cat dies.
When Padraic’s father Donny (Dennis Conway) extracts a confession from a local teenager Davey (Chris Walley) over the killing of Wee Thomas the cat, Donny utters the threat: “If you admit it was you knocked poor Thomas down, Davey, I won’t tell him. If you carry on that it wasn’t, then I will. Them are your choices.” McDonagh immediately sets out a logic of intimidation and entrapment that, however funny in its absurdity, leads inevitably to the gruesome conclusions so vividly portrayed in this production.
Michael Grandage’s staging is smooth, but let down somewhat by the pacing. Frustratingly, an interval between acts extracts us from the world and deflates the intensity that builds within the first few scenes. It also dilutes the pervasiveness of the violent logic and makes for a climax that is still entertaining in its shock value, but less effective in its satirical insight.
Grandage’s revival does well to establish a bucolic backdrop that contrasts later with the endless violence onstage. Designer Christopher Oram busies Donny’s cottage with homely items, but the attention to detail jars slightly with the large symbolic tree that acts as backdrop for the rest of the scenes. Crucially, it’s clear that although the drama is set on Inishmore, this is more of a fictitious, dreamlike vision of Ireland.
The production also emphasizes Padraic’s dangerous volatility nicely. Turner is excellent – both intimidating and childlike by turns. Less successfully does it explore the character of Mairead, another sharp-shooting, strong-willed Republican who idolises Padraic, played by Charlie Murphy. Walley and Conway are also strong and very funny as the clowns of the piece, who ironically act as voices of reason amid the pools of blood.
Of course, the visual acts of violence onstage are fictional, but McDonagh’s references – from bombing chip shops to Bloody Sunday – are based in fact. Beneath the laughter there is a sense of discomfort and bleak realism that occasionally appears in this production, but that is often sidelined for the sake of entertainment.
The Lieutenant Of Inishmore is at the Noël Coward Theatre until September 8th. For more details, click here.