Review: The Lieutenant of Inishmore, Noel Coward Theatre
- Credit: Archant
Bridget Galton gives a four star review.
THE LIEUTENANT OF INISHMORE
NOEL COWARD THEATRE
Critics complained that Martin McDonagh’s hit film Three Billboards redeemed a racist, but this savagely funny earlier work proves he’s been confounding audience expecations for years.
This pitch dark takedown of the sanctimonious sentiments of Irish Republicanism features a psychotic terrorist with a big wobbly soft spot for his cat Wee Thomas. We first meet Padraic extracting the toenails of a dangling drug dealer, trading comic Tarantinoesque banter with his upended victim about Mother Ireland and ringworm tablets.
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Slung out of the IRA for being too mad, Padraic has even fallen foul of splinter group the INLA and is considering forming his own one man cell.
Back home on Inishmore, mullet-haired Davey (Chris Walley a great comic double act with Padraic’s clueless dad Donny) thinks he’s mowed down the mog on his pink bicycle.
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But in fact it’s the handiwork of a trio of INLA hitmen hoping to lure Padraic home. When Davey kidnaps his sister’s ginger cat and tries to cover it with shoe polish as a stand in, it doesn’t play well with the fervent gun-toting Mairead who forms a Bonnie and Clyde hook up with Padraic.
Cue gouged eyes, mangled cats and severed body parts. With smart quickfire dialogue it’s Titus Andronicus in the Irish vernacular.
Michael Grandge’s almost jauntily gruesome revival plays McDonagh’s satire for broad laughs. Written in 1994 when the peace process was still distant and the IRA still brutally active, but not performed until 2001, the original at the RSC’s Swan and Barbican Pit benefited from audience proximity to the gore. What this lacks in that frisson it makes up for in brutal humour.
Taking a break from filling the breeches of the BBC’s Poldark Aiden Turner has fun with Padraic’s switch between cold-eyed killer and blubbing cat lover - even if he misses a little of his psychotic dangerousness. McDonagh once described the piece as a violent play that is wholeheartedly anti-violence, but while at times he has his cake and eats it here by revelling in grisly scenes, you cannot argue with its continuing resonance, skewering the terrorist mindset and the rhetoric of psychopaths.