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The Lieutenant of Inishmore
By Martin McDonagh
Michael Grandage Company at Noel Coward Theatre, St Martin's Lane, London
Reviewed by Jarlath O'Connell
Martin McDonagh is on a roll. After a slew of awards for Three Billboards… he premieres a new play at The Bridge Theatre in October but first we get a chance to see a welcome revival of this hilarious black comedy which was one of his early hits. First seen at the RSC in 2001, Lieutenant was daring for its time. Its central protagonist, after all, is an unapologetic IRA psychopath (played for laughs) and the references in the piece, set in 1993, were still quite raw.
But this was never a history play. McDonagh, as we have come to know him, creates his own universe, a fusion of Tarantino'esque bloodbath and hilariously comic caper. His plays use a heightened language and take place in a comic-mythic west of Ireland that has more in common with John Ford's The Quiet Man than anything contemporary, but crucially they deal with the legacy of all that. They present a space where he makes us reconsider our attitudes to violence, to nationalism and even to what is acceptable entertainment. His main target here was freedom fighters/terrorists who down the ages have always used the deadening rhetoric of patriotism to the cover up what is in essence just plain butchery.
His protagonist Mad Padraic is so unhinged, the IRA wouldn't let him in and McDonagh makes fun of the particular susceptibility of all revolutionary groups to The Great Split. Padraic blithely tortures local drug dealers only to give 'em the taxi fare to A&E. A call from his Dad brings news that his beloved cat, Wee Thomas, is ailing, (in truth he's been run over) and so he rushes back to Galway. On his tail however are a trio of killers from his old terrorist outfit with orders to kill him as he's too much of a loose cannon. On his return he is waylaid by the tomboyish and equally demented Mairead (Charlie Murphy), who has a penchant for blinding cows with a pop gun, in order to practice her rifle skills.
McDonagh's style needs careful handling and director Michael Grandage pitches it perfectly here. With the central romance he delights in recreating tropes from The Quiet Man and Ford's westerns (John Wayne would spin in his grave) and he stages the various confrontations between this motley bunch of louts and lunatics with a deft ease.
Aidan Turner, the dark hunky star of TV smash hit Poldark, is perfect casting as Padraic. He glides from twinkle-eyed charm one second to dead-behind-the-eyes psycho the next. He moves with the litheness of a dancer and commands the stage as if he was a veteran. If you're not convinced he'll be the next Hollywood star just check out the crowds of females congregating at the stage door every night.
The rest of the cast totally hold their own. Denis Conway, is perfectly deadpan as the father, relishing the loquaciousness of the cod Synge dialogue. Chris Walley is the comedy stand-out though. Already a star in Ireland on the film and TV show The Young Offenders, his Cork accent strays in here. He plays the woebegone local kid, Davey, who sports the most appalling mullet (it is 1993 after all) and speeds around on a pink bicycle. He manages to ground the ghoulish satire with some humanity and the two make a neat comedy double act.
The piece is a perfectly trim 1hr 50 but could do without the interval, which saps the momentum of the piece.