Playwright Martin McDonagh – who you might recognise from In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths – writes plays about polite maniacs struggling to balance their Irish civility with their penchants for violence. This performance of The Lieutenant of Inishmore is among the funniest shows SUDS has performed this year, which is an achievement considering the bleakness of the subject matter.
Inishmore follows Mad Padraic, an INLA-splitter rejected by the IRA for being “too mad”. His only friend in the world, his cat Wee Thomas, has taken ill, so Padraic suspends his one-man war against marijuana dealers and chip shop proprietors to return home and see what’s up. This is all the narrative introduction I’ll give you, along with assurances that the play is among McDonagh’s best.
SUDS’ Lieutenant is the directorial debut of Jack Scott – one half of this year’s Theatresports champions – and the production is in some way a culmination of what he learned in the gladiatorial pit of Manning. For those unfamiliar with McDonagh’s brand of comedy, in one word: it’s dark (that’s two words). McDonagh’s talent is for taking the horrible and transmuting it into laughter, through either the absurdity of the situation or the deadpan-ness of the delivery. This production realises both dimensions of McDonagh’s wit, as evident in a violent outburst of Padraic’s being among the show’s comedic highpoints.
This show’s cast has an incredible comic awareness. They build their own gags from the silences and respond to the energy in the room. While there are some segments in the latter portion that would benefit from increasing the pace, the delivery is broadly spot on. The Irish accents are, initially, somewhat hard to interpret (some lines, unfortunately, remain unintelligible) but your understanding will increase as you immerse yourself in the world of the characters. The cast should be applauded for each finding a different nuance in the accent as well – they are not simple caricatures. Angus Rees and Robert Boddington have a quasi-father/quasi-son chemistry as the mellow incompetents at the heart of the play’s action. I can’t talk about Patrick Morrow because people tell me I have a ‘conflict of interest’, so I won’t say acknowledge the skill with which he balances the conflicting madness/sadness/mercy of Padraic’s character. Julia Roberton is more than Padraic’s match as Mairead, imbuing each of her songs with the horrible threat of violence. Special mention must also go to Tom Green, who performs McDonagh villainy with utter fidelity. There are a number of supporting roles, performed by Jack Mitchell, Georgia Coverdale, and Crippy Byers, but they are indispensible for the range of comedy they generate.
That said, I have some misgivings. The set design – the cellar painted in a pattern of vibrant red bricks – too readily endorses the ridiculousness of McDonagh’s language. Similarly, the guns, which are intentionally fashioned to look like children’s toys, detract from the comic darkness of the violence. There’s a real sense that McDonagh’s language benefits from the incongruity of the setting: the instances of fierce dialogue benefit from the homeliness of the setting, just as the glimmers of Irish civility in polite conversation are made absurd by the constant threat of death. This is not to say the set isn’t well realised, just that it doesn’t necessarily fit.
However, the blood red of the space in conjunction with the red lights used to evoke Padraic’s warehouse torture chamber works to create one of the most tonally affective moments in the piece, set to Q Lazzarus’ “Goodbye Horses” (cf. Hannibal). Similarly, the show is elaborately staged within the Cellar space. The main entrance through the rear bisects the space, which the cast use the entirety of, and Scott willfully violates the SUDS rule of ‘ignore the sightline destroying poles’ to great effect. Respect must also be given for the show’s use of special effects: the person sitting behind me got gobbed in the face with blood… and loved it. The upshot of the review should be that I had a great time watching the show,
I strongly recommend SUDS’ The Lieutenant of Inishmore. You’ll laugh at things that would otherwise horrify you.
Wednesday to Saturday, 29 Oct – 8 November, The Cellar Theatre