Running from the 27th of January until the 14th of March, Conor Halion reviews The Gaiety’s latest production of Martin McDonagh’s classic, The Lieutenant of Inishmore.
Having first debuted in 2001 as a production of the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-upon-Avon, The Lieutenant of Inishmore remains perhaps Martin McDonagh’s most controversial work. With the Good Friday agreement having been signed in April of 1998, the scars of the Troubles were still very raw when the play first made its debut. Even today, more than twenty years on, its subject matter remains controversial.
Padraic, “Mad Padraic”, the titular Lieutenant of Inishmore, is a thoroughly unlikable hero. A member of the Irish National Liberation Army, Padraic takes delight in maiming and torturing anyone that gets in the way of his mission for complete Irish independence. The action of the play revolves around Padraic’s return to Inishmore after hearing his childhood pet, Wee Thomas, is sick. In reality, Wee Thomas has been brutally murdered. Thus, McDonagh intertwines two subjects rarely seen in the same company: the human capacity for violence, and the empathy of man for his fellow creature. The result is a play so absurd that it can be interpreted both as a black comedy and as a political satire.
Firstly, as we have come to expect from the Gaiety, the set design for The Lieutenant of Inishmore is phenomenal, special credit going to Owen MacCartaigh. The foreground of the set features a detailed representation of the inside of a fishing cottage, while the background, which many of the characters traverse throughout the play, is a well-worn country road, beyond which lies a stunning image of the cliffs of Inishmore. Light is filtered through this image at various points of the play to dazzling effect, and at times, it almost feels as if you can see the setting sun shimmering off the cresting waves. While coming across as quite believable, when taken as a whole, the set almost evokes a surrealist painting and seems to reinforce the play’s main theme: the absurdity of reality.
While coming across as quite believable, when taken as a whole, the set almost evokes a surrealist painting and seems to reinforce the play’s main theme: the absurdity of reality.
The cast here are a welcome mix of Gaiety regulars, while also featuring some well-known faces from film and television. Special mention has to be paid to four actors in particular, who form two double acts. Firstly, we have Donny and Davey, portrayed by Don Wycherley and Alex Murphy respectively. Wycherley and Murphy are the first characters to whom are introduced, and they perform at their absolute best when together, forming a gut-busting odd-couple. Wycherley is entirely convincing as the bumbling old fisherman Donny, while Murphy delivers some of the play’s most memorable lines as the wimpy Davey.
As previously mentioned, The Lieutenant of Inishmore is, more or less, a black comedy. However, the characters of Padraic and Mairead, portrayed by Paul Mescal and Aisling Kearns respectively, lend the play some moments of much needed gravity. Mescal and Kearns both previously performed in the Gaiety’s production of Asking for it last October, and it really is a delight to see them act opposite one another on stage once more. Mescal plays the role of Padraic in a manner which is both quite physical and humorous, a performance which feels, appropriately, explosive. Kearns, in many respects, mirrors this portrayal as the equally mad Mairead, a fellow cat-lover and aspiring member of the INLA. However, Kearns also lends the character moments of tragic beauty, especially during their shared rendition of “The Patriot Game.” Again, as with Wycherley and Murphy, Mescal and Kearns perform at their best in their shared scenes, having a simmering chemistry which threatens to boil over at any moment, something which truly captivates the audience from start to finish.
...the characters of Padraic and Mairead, portrayed by Paul Mescal and Aisling Kearns respectively, lend the play some moments of much needed gravity.
After watching the play, I asked myself the question, is The Lieutenant of Inishmore still relevant? While the horrific violence of The Troubles will never be forgotten in this country, it is equally true that for people of my generation who grew up after the Good Friday Agreement, they are events largely relegated to the past, and will hopefully stay there. Seen in this light, The Lieutenant of Inishmore’s content can come across rather dated. However, upon further reflection, I believe that this was not the point that McDonagh was trying to make.
In 2003, Mehmet Ergen directed his own translation of the play in Istanbul. This production was staged in the weeks following terrorist bombings of the synagogues and the British consulate in that city, with a death toll of almost sixty. The point is this: where society exists, unfortunately, there will also exist violence and terrorism. As McDonagh has demonstrated, violence, whether committed on behalf of one’s own country or a beloved pet, is always tragically senseless. For this reason, I believe that The Lieutenant of Inishmore will stand the test of time just as well as the works of Shakespeare, and The Gaiety’s production, with its superb set design and fantastic cast, conveys this brilliantly. An incredible show, not to be missed.