Review – The Cripple of Inishmaan, Noel Coward Theatre

Friday 21 June 2013

posterIf the Whingers had £50 million or so in the bank they would be taking life easy.

When not idling the hours away in a most dilatory of fashions, they would be jetting off to the far-flung corners of their bucket lists. They would be breaking their principles by occupying Premium Seats in the theatre before indulging in post-show discussions eating fancy chow and drinking fancy wine.

But then the Whingers are not 23 any more than they are not Daniel Radcliffe whose post-Potter life has already seen him throwing himself into the deep end of a stage career by throwing off his clothes on both sides of the Atlantic, taking on the lead in a Broadway musical and now tackling an Irish accent whilst surrounded by bona fide Irish actors. No one can accuse him of ducking a challenge.

And, since you ask, yes, his accent seemed pretty convincing to us. And this with Andrew freshly returned from Ireland (it was, as it happens, a bucket-list thing, Giant’s Causeway – and we know that’s Northern Ireland but before you quibble, he visited the Republic of too). Here are his holiday snaps:

Dublin (7)

Dublin (2)

Dublin (12)

Of course we cannot vouch for the particular accents of the Aran islands off Ireland’s west coast where Martin McDonagh‘s The Cripple of Inishmaan is located. But unless Henry Higgins or the inhabitants of those islands have booked a charabanc to see this we doubt there will be many complaints.

Radcliffe plays “cripple” Billy, an orphan who passes his time staring at cows to escape the boredom, bullying and gossip of 1934 Inishmaan and who might get a real chance to escape when a Hollywood crew arrives to make a film on a neighbouring island. The film in question, Man of Aran was a real fictional documentary of its day (by Robert Joseph Nanook of the North Flaherty no less). It was what BAFTA would today call “Reality and Constructed Factual”. And here’s us fooled into believing TOWIE and Made in Chelsea were original conceits.

Anyway, this is the typical twisted black comedy you’d expect of McDonagh. The place is peopled with quirky locals, a shop is run by Billy’s two adoptive aunts ( Gillian Hanna and Ingrid Craigie) who sell mainly tinned peas and one of which talks to stones to pass the time. Johnnypateenmike (Pat Shortt) trades local gossip for eggs and is trying to finish off his alcoholic 90-year-old mother (the wonderful June Watson) by feeding her addiction. There is also a boatman whose name sounds like the opening number from Sondheim’s Company, Babbybobby Bennett (Padraic Delaney).

There are several plot twists and the way Billy is treated is shocking, yet the most startling thing is the latest on-stage trend of wasting eggs. Children of the Sun kicked it off two months ago, The Amen Corner is cracking a few, Britain’s Got Talent got in on the act and here it is again, copious egg-smashing bullying from another cow that Billy stares at longingly: the vicious local lass, Helen (Sarah Greene).

Despite all this nastiness there’s a rather Father Ted-ish charm and humour to the piece. Radcliffe makes a likeable Billy and the supporting actors play up the eccentricities nicely – none more so than the trio of senior actresses (Watson, Hanna and Craigie) who are frequently hilarious.

Michael Grandage directs the middle show of his 5 play season. Christopher Oram‘s realistically solid sets revolve and there’s a front cloth featuring some impressive dry-stone walling (and Andrew once spent a weekend in Wales learning to dry stone wall so he should know) which you can admire before the show starts while ushers parade around the theatre brandishing “no photography” signs. And good to hear a pre-show announcement about turning off phones too. It’s a shame it takes the appearance of a Harry Potter star to justify it.



6 Responses to “Review – The Cripple of Inishmaan, Noel Coward Theatre”

  1. Simon Parris Says:

    Gaiety School of Acting – love it! Surely the alma mater of many a West End star

  2. margarita Says:

    I saw this play a few years ago and the finest performance was by a black cat. Nobody has mentioned whether he has a colleague in this production so I’d be grateful for the information as it could be the reason I see it. Unless a ruling that D R has to be the smallest performer on stage has necessitated cutting this key performance.

    • Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

      Lieutenant of Inishmore, featured a scene-stealing moggie. Are you confusing your Inishmaan with your Inishmore?

  3. margarita Says:

    Ah – many thanks for the correction and if there isn’t going to be a rule that all plays called The &^%$^&& Of Inish*&^%* have to employ a cat they cannot count upon my support.

  4. You could drown one in the Lake Isle of Innishfree. With Stones in His Pockets.

  5. Martin Says:

    Surprised to see no mention of the impressive one-legged, one-armed abseil. The young Radcliffe’s skills seem boundless.

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