For his West End debut, Aiden Turner, star of BBC’s hit TV show Poldark, had huge expectations to fill. Written by Martin McDonagh, director of Oscar award winning film “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri”, the play was black comedy at its darkest, but packed with enough shock and humour to have the audience in stitches.
We first meet Turner’s character Mad Padraic (a madman whose quest for a free and united Ireland has seen him excluded from the IRA for being too revolutionary) in a warehouse, torturing a drug dealer who sells to young Catholic children. With blood stains covering his white shirt, it is a stark contrast to his pristine and well-known on-screen character. Padraic’s life comes to a grinding halt when he is informed by his father that his beloved cat Wee Thomas is sick, when in reality, Thomas has been bludgeoned to death. Davey, the half-witted neighbour who found the cat cycling along the country road, is the prime suspect, and is terrified of what Padraic will do when he uncovers the truth. Padraic’s father, Denny, along with Davey go to great lengths to try and save themselves, including trying to cover a ginger cat with black shoe polish to resemble Thomas. But their plans fall apart when Padraic returns home and vows a bloody revenge on those responsible for his cat’s death.
There were several great comedic moments throughout the performance; some were a louder than others, many were predictable, but all delivered side-splitting laughs. Turner expertly crafts his character throughout, switching at one point between unhinged lunatic to hysterical crying mess at another. In fact, there are several standout performances in this production: Chris Walley’s Davey was comedy gold, playing the archetypal rock-and-roll obsessed teenager that we all knew growing up. The play’s only female actor, Charlie Murphy, was excellent as Mairead; a young revolutionary who blinds cows (and people) with BB pellets and steals Padraic’s heart. Her stunning performance lent itself perfectly to her pivotal role in the ending, demonstrating effortlessly just how far her character will go for the Irish cause.
The set, though simplistic, looked like a 1980s time capsule, and as the play developed, the walls became covered with blood to the point of resembling a slaughterhouse. One particularly grotesque scene towards the end of the production was complemented vividly through Adam Cork and Neil Austin’s excellent use of music and light, harshening the on-stage actions even further. The play was remarkably brief which made an interval seem unnecessary. With plenty of (perhaps over-done) build-up in act one, act two came across as much more polished, effective and allowed the darkness of this comedy to come to light.
The Lieutenant of Inishmore is not to be missed, though it is certainly not for the faint hearted (or for cat lovers!). The plot twist towards the finale was an absolute highlight, leading many audience members to their feet. A play worth seeing for this alone.
The Lieutenant of Inishmore is playing at the Noël Coward Theatre from 23 June – 8 September 2018.
BY TOBY VARIAN