The Cripple of Inishmaan, Noel Coward Theatre
Director: Michael Grandage
Author: Martin McDonagh
Key Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Ingrid Craigie, Gillian Hannah, a whole bunch of Irish people
A fair warning to all readers: my expectations for this were ridiculously high, which is probably reflected in the mediocre rating I gave the production. Secondly, I managed to see it on opening night – although getting the first glimpse is undeniably exciting, and made me feel wantonly privileged, the obvious drawback is the test-run nature of the event itself.
McDonagh’s dark comedy takes place in 1934, on the glum isolated island of Inishmaan off the coast of Ireland, and tells the story of a crippled orphan Billy (Daniel Radcliffe) trying to escape the island, and his miserable life on it, by auditioning for a role in the Hollywood documentary that is being filmed nearby. Much like his character ‘Cripple Billy’, Radcliffe tries hard to bust out of the box society has pigeon-holed him in: although it remains to be seen if Billy achieves the re-brand that he seeks, Radcliffe completes his transition from Potterhead to respectable Actor (pronounced Ack-tORE, Dahling) quite successfully. His natural naïveté and doe-eyed wonder works well with the dark tone of the play – although surrounded by whiskey-glugging, grubby-looking potty mouths (that’s the Irish for ya, apparently),
Radcliffe Billy is the awkward limping virgin who doesn’t drink, smoke, swear or get out much.
It must be said that as happy as I am for
Harry Daniel for successfully spreading his wings and leaving the metaphorical nest, his impressive performance as crippled Irish introvert (Radcliffe manages to pull off a convincing limp AND Irish accent simultaneously- credit where credit is due) would be nothing without the stellar support from the rest of the cast. The ones who stand out most to me are of course Ingrid Craigie and Gillian Hannah – the leading ladies of the production, slightly mad yet good-natured co-owners of the local convenience-store-cum-hanging-out-spot and Billy’s guardians. I use the matter-of-fact “of course” because these two ladies possess the great comedic timing I’ve so missed from stage productions. Granted, McDonagh’s script is a beacon of dark, sinister humour and ingenious anarchy, but it takes a truly great comedian to turn the words on a page into a scene evoking sudden guffaws of laughter and sometimes even gurgles of glee from the audience. The latter reaction arose after Babbybobby (Padraic Delaney) playfully tosses a Bible into the sea. Such lolz.
There’s plenty of mockery towards the Irish as well – an artistic choice Irish-born Londoner McDonagh is defending from critique to this day. Hey, I laughed, so did most of the audience.
In spite of all the laughter and all the scenery (I was surprised to see an intricate four-part rotating construction as the curtains opened – the staging is one of the most interesting elements of the production), I found the storyline itself quite disappointing. Perhaps it was because I’m such a McDonagh fan (I even enjoyed Seven Psychopaths in spite of the rather terrible plot) and hence had quite high expectations, or because I’d never read the play itself and therefore went in not knowing what to expect, but this was a definite disappointment. The Cripple of Inishmaan is not McDonagh’s best play, so Grandage’s choice to remake the 1997 original is baffling given McDonagh’s other award-winning and jaw-dropping classics like The Pillowman. Without giving away the ending – nothing happens. In the first Act – very little happens, and in the second Act – a little does happen, but then it isn’t really relevant.
Yes, it’s funny and at times sad, and tackles very difficult topics (disability being one of them), but at the end of the day, the modern-day viewer holds out for that little bit more, that pivotal moment in a play that can captivate you or make you scream out in a complex fury of emotion. This was not the case here: moments free from nuanced dark humour were a reason for me to start planning my weekend. I’ve had more fun in an all-night Twilight saga marathon tbh. Hence the three-star rating, as much as it pains me.
Who should see this? Harry Potter fans (‘OMG it’s Crippled Harry!’), Irish people (‘Hurhurhur we DO drink too much, don’t we?’), people who have read the play and know that the story is really not that exciting, people who like to nap for the first half and wake up to a slightly more exciting finale (eh, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, anyone? Skip the first hour of the movie. You’re welcome).
Buy (cheapish) tickets or read more about other Michael Grandage’s star-studded plays (ERMEHGERD Jude Law is in the next one, yay) here.