Though The Lieutenant of Inishmore has moved from the close-up intimacy of the RSC's Other Place and Barbican Pit to a more long-range West End house, the horrors are undiminished in Martin McDonagh's piece of theatrical Tarantino.
There have been violent plays before, to be sure, but never before with quite the same splatter quotient as so shamelessly served up here. If anything, the effect is now magnified: the distance of the proscenium arch now makes it even more gruesome, because it looks even more realistic from a little further away.
Wilson Milam's almost entirely re-cast production is scintillatingly rendered in all its ghoulish terror by a company who variously splatter, or are splattered, all over the scenery. Francis O'Connor's rural cottage setting becomes a veritable little shop of horrors in the process; and there's no more extraordinary sight on the London stage than the one of Trevor Cooper (the sole holder-over from the original) and Domhnall Gleeson as they nonchalantly set about disposing of the accumulated debris of corpses that litter the lounge by the middle of the second act.
Cooper plays the role of the father of an INLA terrorist, Padraic, the death of whose beloved cat Wee Thomas is reported by Gleeson's character, Davey, and sets in motion the train of terror. Meanwhile, Davey's sister Mairead turns out to be even more besotted with her cat, Sir Roger, than she is in awe of Padraic.
McDonagh's play - where pets are more prized than humans - is a fantastically entertaining rollercoaster of cataclysmic but cathartic violence; and in the lead roles of Padraic and Mairead, Peter McDonald and Elaine Cassidy (who appeared opposite Nicole Kidman in the movie The Others) are sensational, steering the play's precarious line between revelling in their insanity and revealing their sensitivity to their pets.
This is not a show for the squeamish or for animal lovers, but it's just the kind of breathtaking, bracing breath of odorous air to rejuvenate the West End this summer.
- Mark Shenton
Note: The following review dates from January 2002 and the production's run at the Barbican Pit.
The Lieutenant of Inishmore caused a major controversy when it premiered in Stratford last year. And now, while the smell of cordite is still fresh, it hits London's Barbican stage with a new controversy as author Martin McDonagh accuses commercial West End producers of being too timorous to stage his play.
He surely has a point. London theatregoers are too robust to be shocked by a mere play. Certainly McDonagh's mixture of torture, double-dealing, blood-letting and cat murder is not for the squeamish, but audiences that have become used to film directors such as Tarantino, will find little here to frighten them.
No, the controversy is in the subject matter. There will be some who believe that this tale of a bunch of INLA terrorists is not suitable material for humour, but that would ignore the power of McDonagh's writing. For what McDonagh brings out is the futility of individual terrorist targets. When mad Padraic ("too mad for the IRA") maintains that he blows up chip shops because they're less well-regarded than army bases, the audience's giggle masks the grim truth that that is exactly why such targets are chosen. There is nothing as futile as killing a cat, but such senseless slaughter here serves as a perfect metaphor for the endless round of soft targets that terrorists have feasted on.
Often, when a play is described as a black comedy, it means that it's neither particularly shocking nor funny. That rule of thumb doesn't apply with Inishmore: it is uproariously funny and shocking at the same time. It's part of McDonagh's skill that he can elicit hysterical laughter from an audience, even during a Grand Guignol finale.
Among the cast, there's an outstanding performance by Kerry Condon as the idealistic teenager Mairead, skillfully treading the line between fanatical terrorist and devoted lover and bringing out all aspects of a complex character. David Wilmot is a psychotic Padraic and Owen Sharpe also shines as the hapless Davey, the unwitting catalyst for the mayhem. Director Wilson Milam has a sure touch as the play unwinds to its grisly end.
There are times when McDonagh's touch deserts him. He can never resist putting in a scene that can raise a laugh, even if it sits awkwardly within the play. And the plot doesn't hold up to too much close scrutiny.
But, on the night I attended, that seemed irrelevant to the audience, who lapped up the wit and inventiveness of this work. The Lieutenant of Inishmore might not be a masterpiece, but there won't be many more plays this year that sizzle with this much energy and scintillating wordplay. Let's hope that one West End producer has the nerve to bring this play to a wider audience.
- Maxwell Cooter
Note: This review dates May 2001 and the production's original Stratford-upon-Avon season.
If you can cope with the graphic depiction of torture, mutilation, blinding, murder, the dismemberment of dead bodies and the killing of cats, you will probably enjoy this play. All this nauseating violence is juxtaposed with a wildly funny black farce in Martin McDonagh's new play The Lieutenant of Inishmore. It's also a wry, satirical look at the problems and tragedy of Ireland in its struggle for freedom and unity.
Set in County Galway, this is one of McDonagh's trilogy of Arran Island plays. As a working-class south Londoner of Irish descent, McDonagh just about gets away with depicting characters even more stupid than the stereotypical stage Irishman. Director Wilson Milam makes good use of old rebel songs to evoke the spirit of Ireland, but this play is more modern than nostalgic. It's Father Ted meets Clockwork Orange; Brendan Behan via Quentin Tarantino.
The play opens with the killing of Wee Thomas, the beloved cat of Mad Padraic (David Wilmot), who is away in the north bombing chip shops and removing toenails and nipples from his enemies. Padraic's dad Donny (Trevor Cooper) and Davey (beautifully played by Owen Sharpe), who found the cat's body, tremble as the mad gunman rushes home to wreak revenge on the cat-killers and so unleashing a new avalanche of violence.
Kerry Condon, as Davey's sister Mairead, gives a wonderfully spirited Performance as the feisty young woman, as mad and violent and fond of cats as Padraic whom she admires and desires.
As well as farcical situations and funny dialogue, McDonagh has a serious point to make about the futility and horror of violence. The gentle and simple Davey asks at the end of the play "Hasn't there been enough killing done in this house for one day?" But there's no need for didactic points to be laboured, so he decides "One more won't fecking hurt!"
The RSC warns patrons that "this production contains scenes of extreme violence". They're not exaggerating. Although personally unable to pass the barrier, I could see that beyond it was a funny play with something to say. If, like me, you find it impossible not to be disturbed by violence, don't go within a mile of this play, but if you can laugh at it then you'll probably enjoy the evening.
The Lieutenant of Inishmore opened at The Other Place, Stratford-upon-Avon, 18 April 2001 (previews from 11 April) and continues there in repertory until 12 October 2001.