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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Lieutenant Of Inishmore
Noel Coward Theatre  Summer 2018

A black comedy of glorious bad taste, Martin McDonagh's celebration of Irish madness plays like a collaboration of Joe Orton, Quentin Tarantino and Spike Milligan.

I suppose it would be possible to be shocked and even offended by it, but the far better response is delight in its uninhibited excess. 

The inhabitants of an Irish village are worried about the imminent return of a local celebrity, Mad Padriac, a self-styled patriot and terrorist so simultaneously uncontrollable and inept that the IRA will have nothing to do with him. 

Padriac's speciality is bombing chip shops (because they're not guarded like police stations, obviously), or would be, if he could get bombs that worked, and we first meet him having a friendly chat with the small-time drug dealer he's torturing (because you have to draw a line somewhere). 

The one soft spot in Padriac's heart is for his black pussycat Wee Thomas. But the beloved kitty has died, and the challenges for Padriac's family and neighbours are to try to keep that news from him and cope with his grief and rage when they fail. 

The first involves an orange cat and some boot polish, the second a teenage girl who can shoot out a cow's eye at sixty yards (though no one is sure why she wanted to). 

And so we have a play in which morality is repeatedly turned on its head and violence is as casual as small talk. 

The locals pause in their frantic attempts to disguise the substitute cat to bicker over whose boot polish is being wasted and to get high on the fumes, while another IRA splinter group objects to Padriac's abuse of drug dealers because shaking down the dealers is their main source of finance for their own inept revolutionary activities. 

A character who insists that he only stomped on his aged mother once is reminded that in Ireland 'There is no statute of limitations on mam-trampling,' and the charge that Wee Thomas may occasionally have been fed breakfast cereal rather than luxury brand cat food upsets Padriac almost as much as his pet's demise. 

Eventually there is going to be a lot of shooting, and a scene of such over-the-top stage gore that you can only laugh at its audacity. 

Aidan Turner gives Padriac the exact mix of casual calm and wild passion that suggests true madness, while the evidence that he always makes sense to himself somehow keeps him oddly endearing. 

Chris Walley and Denis Conway race entertainingly through a repertoire of ways to panic while Charlie Murphy makes the teenager with the bovine ocular obsession charming and sexy. 

Michael Grandage's direction is, if anything, a little too muted. This is not a play to be cautious with, and the production could benefit from more snap and pacing and – dare I say it – more gore. 

Surveying a stageful of dead bodies and random body parts near the end of the play, someone comments 'It's incidents like this does put tourists off Ireland.' Your maiden aunt (Do they make maiden aunts any more?) might be shocked or put off by The Lieutenant Of Inishmore. But she'd be missing out on a whole lot of good dirty fun.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - The Lieutenant of Inishmore  - Noel Coward Theatre 2018

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