Reviews Edinburgh Published 30 April 2012

The Lieutenant of Inishmore

Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh ⋄ 20th April - 12th May 2012

Stupid is as stupid does.

Colin Bramwell

While researching his recent film Four Lions, Chris Morris came across a real story which involved a group of jihadists from Yemen who had planned to destroy a nearby American warship by ramming it with a boat full of explosives. Unfortunately, when they put said explosives into the boat it promptly sank, and the Great Satan lived to fight another day.

Although Morris’s subsequent brand of failed terrorism seems far more slapstick than that which is found in Martin McDonagh’s play The Lieutenant of Inishmore, the two share a common underlying preoccupation with a sort of rampant stupidity as a subject. At least, it seems very apparent that both The Lieutenant and Four Lions are largely about the shambolic and explosive mixture of third-hand ideology and home-made bombs. Given this, it is perhaps easy to see why the former remains one of McDonagh’s more popular works””more performed than, say, A Skull in Connemara, or The Lonesome West, works of at least comparable quality.

On the other hand, it might be that the play simply seems, in many ways, far more cinematic than conventionally theatrical. It seems almost lazy to compare McDonagh to Tarantino””practically every review of a McDonagh play will make this point””however, given the multi-directional gun-pointing, the chopping up of bodies, and the pervading sense of fiasco, the association is impossible to avoid. The Lieutenant essentially spends most of its duration establishing the fact (if you’ll pardon the metaphor) that a large pile of shit is approaching an industrial strength fan: Padraic, a local madman kicked from the IRA and considering forming a one-man splinter group from his current cell, is travelling home to Inishmore because Wee Thomas, the only thing he ever loved, is poorly. Wee Thomas is a cat; he is also dead, having (possibly) been run over by a local teenager. The result of Padraic’s return involves a Wee Thomas stand-in cat (ginger, coated with shoe polish), an especially pedantic member of the INLA, and a fair amount of gore. As one might guess, things do not turn out particularly well for any of the felines or humans involved.

It’s a tremendously fun experience watching any McDonagh play that is well delivered, so it would be hard for anyone with half a funny bone not to enjoy this particular version of The Lieutenant. The performances were solid across the board, aside from the occasional slip of the brogue (which, given the territory, is entirely forgiveable). Rose O’Loughlin may just have stolen the show, although Mark Prendergast as the aforementioned fastidious terrorist was also notable for his impressive comedic timing, and the subtle blankness with which Peter Campion played Padraic was both intriguing and subtle. The sets were also nicely designed: a set-piece involving a man being suspended by the feet from a rope was very effective indeed, and the set-changes (including a few nice zoom-outs) were cleverly designed to stress the more filmic aspect of the show. In all departments this production is slick, confident and professional (watch out for the live cat). As an introduction to McDonagh’s work, it absolutely suffices.

In fact, if you wanted to take your parents to see a McDonagh play, this production would be perfect. But there is also the feeling that this version of The Lieutenant might is a bit too comfortable. The farcical elements of the play are very much stressed by director Mark Thomson. The resultant experience is ultimately like a that of a comedy in which the audience is not given time to reflect on any darker import, nor are they particularly challenged. McDonagh (much like Chris Morris) has been misrepresented before, and indeed accused of trivialising Irish identity. The charge is fatuous: the play does not do this precisely because it exposes the underlying and entrenched stupidity of violence by taking it to its next logical step, and creating a world in which the lives of cats are more important than those of humans.

In order for this to come across while watching the play, the pacing must be spot-on “” and there were problems in this regard. Although the play is, by its very nature, fast-paced, the choice could have been made to create a little more room for reflection. For instance, at one point an INLA member says that it was harsh to kill Airey Neave just because he has a funny name. This line was dealt with in a laugh-and-move-on fashion, but it could perhaps have been given some breathing space: as could the audience. Another choice (not entirely mutually exclusive to the previous) would have been to deliver the play with a bit more speed. At crucial points, the play was simply not delivered with the kind of exigency it needs. Rather, events seemed to trundle along at much the same pace: even down to a scene where Padraic, in the middle of a shoot-out, seems to calmly walk up to his assailants and dispatch them with very little urgency. The effect was a little underwhelming, and, as in other places, this could have been rectified by more thought about pacing.

This almost clockwork feel was inappropriate for a play that relies so heavily on shock and disgust. It was strange, in between scenes, for the torture and murder of a man to be trivialised by a cartoonish projection (that was, for some reason, out of focus): after this, when the curtain was raised to reveal the mutilated corpses of several men, it was impossible for the audience to feel that what they were seeing could be real, even in the context of this embellished universe, let alone our own. This process of distancing the audience from the subject matter severely undermined the sense of urgency present elsewhere in the production. 


Colin Bramwell is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

The Lieutenant of Inishmore Show Info

Directed by Mark Thomson

Written by Martin McDonagh

Cast includes Liam Brennan, Peter Campion, Christopher Fairbank, Rory Murphy, Rose O'Loughlin, Grant O'Rourke, Mark Prendergast, Jamie Quinn




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