The Cripple of Inishmaan, written by Martin McDonagh when he was in his early twenties, is a play about hope. A 1930s community in rural isolated Ireland is overwhelmed by the news of filming in nearby Inishmore. The news acts as a trojan horse of hopes and desires. Crumpled cruel unsophisticated hopes, but hopes nonetheless. Billy hopes to escape. Helen wants to be kissed and not to be groped. Babbybobby wants his wife back. Johnnypateenmike explicitly tells everyone what he wants but it might not be what he means. Some of these hopes aren’t merely unfulfilled, they are futile. Characters repeatedly run against brick walls. When they recover, they turn on each other with unsparing determination and wit.
The Cripple of Inishmaan is full of every day cruelties dancing around language and deeds but it felt softer than other Martin McDonagh plays. Tragedies and disappointments always loomed at the horizon but the characters rose – at least in spirit – above their twisted fate.
The cast does an exceptional job riding the wild waves of language and story: Sarah Greene’s Helen has a fiery energy laced with enough desperation to make the character truly engaging. Pat Shortt as Johnnypateenmike gives a performance of comedy genius as well as being a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Padraic Delaney as Babbybobby projects such strong decency that his only act of violence is truly shocking. Ingrid Craige and Gilliam Hanna as Billy’s aunties skillfully play at the edges of comedy and tragedy without losing sight of either.
As for Mr Radcliffe himself, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore. If accepted wisdom says his comfort zone should be boy wizards, we should reconsider. I found him a fascinating stage actor – even more so than on screen – with great physical energy and presence. Revstan said this is the most transformed she has seen him in a role, which is probably true but also irrelevant: there is no reason to judge Daniel Radcliffe by child star standards. His ability to grab onto Billy’s strengths, physical weaknesses, hopes, desires, wicked humour and desperation all at the same time was a revelation. A moving performance.
Michael Grandage directs with skill and insight allowing the play to breath, but also – and that’s no minor consideration – he balances the presence of a star within an ensemble story beautifully. I always liked the double frisson of a star and a play with the provision the production can withstand the pressure. In this occasion, play, actors and production team combine to perfection with rewarding results.
P.S. After Children of the Sun at the National, this is the second production in recent months where eggs come into some serious abuse. It’s hard to object when it’s so funny.