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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Cripple of Inishmaan
Noel Coward Theatre  Summer  2013

Martin McDonagh writes plays that are not just set in Ireland but are about the Irish, or at least his skewed vision, alternately blackly comic and just plain black, of them. His plays are funny, bizarre, obscene and sometimes shocking but mainly – if you have the same skewed sense of humour – very funny. 

This one is nominally about a crippled orphan lad in an island village, who sees the arrival of a Hollywood film crew on a neighbour island as a means of escape from a dead-end life in which everyone either pities, patronises or bullies him. 

But his adventure is largely just the hook on which McDonagh hangs the other villagers, every one of them capable of being unconsciously hilarious, consciously cruel and, very occasionally and with embarrassed secrecy, kind. 

There are, for example, the dotty spinster sisters who have raised the boy and who sometimes seem to be in a competition for which has the fewest marbles left. 

Or the self-appointed town crier, who actually earns a livelihood by spreading gossip and demanding a few eggs or a tin of peas as payment. Or his aged mother, whose doctor is convinced she's dying, but who seems determined not to go to her Maker sober. 

Or the village lass convinced in the face of all evidence to the contrary that she is beautiful and desirable, and prepared to knee the bollocks of any man who says otherwise or, if she's in the right mood, anyone who happens by. 

These characters, who seem unable to open their mouths without saying something hilarious (or to get too far without hitting the adjective feckin' or one of its associated nouns or verbs), are the real entertainment, their cross-talk frequently reaching Marx Brothers or Abbott & Costello heights and even the blank silences while their slow-moving minds try to process the confusion generating laughter. 

You could be excused for occasionally wanting the plot and the cripple to get out of the way and just let you enjoy them. 

This is true even though they are all almost as likely to abruptly say something shockingly cruel, either thoughtlessly or to put someone in his place, and we come to see that to McDonagh the unconscious comedy and the conscious cruelty are inseparable. 

The main attraction of this production for many will be Daniel Radcliffe in the title role, and the best thing to say of his performance is that he immerses himself fully in the world of the play so that there is no hint of Potter or slumming movie star, but he really doesn't do much more than that with the character. 

The spotlight is repeatedly stolen by Ingrid Craigie and Gillian Hanna's perfect double act as the sisters, Pat Shortt as the newsman and Sarah Greene as the softer-than-she'd-like-to-admit lassie.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -   The Cripple of Inishmaan - Coward Theatre 2013

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