Noel Coward Theatre, London until 8 September 2018
This is as violent as anything I’ve seen on the stage. And I’m including in this survey that Titus Andronicus at the Globe which saw half a GCSE class collapse before the interval. And by ‘violent’ I don’t just mean execution by handgun at close range, I mean the subsequent vivid red splatter which streaks up the wall, the cat ‘brained’ at short distance with a handgun, a man’s face being rubbed in the corpse, and the nonchalant request of a torturer for a cheese grater and something to muffle the screams. Each one is punctured with a top-notch gag.
Martin McDonagh’s play can be summed up thus; an INLA (the IRA wouldn’t have him) paramilitary comes back to his home of Inishmore because he gets wind that his cat is ill. ‘Wee Thomas’, his only friend in the world, is, in fact, dead and when Mad Padraic finally arrives and realises he died, many others follow suit. For all the wistful nonsense literature we’ve had to endure about this part of the world, this is a firm sharp slap around the face.
McDonagh wanted to write a play, he says, that would make the IRA want to kill him. I can only imagine what impact the play would have had in 2001 when it was finally first staged. It’s a ferocious satire on the terrorist mindset. Blinding people, murdering them, pulling their toes out is fair game but leave the cat alone.
But it’s the sparky bickering and distracted conversation which really sets this play alive. Who said what, is this the right cat, should you feed it Frosties? Lines shouted at the peak of panic like “do you want a happy cat or a free Ireland?” Also is there a better accent for the word “knickers” than Northern Irish (try it). Michael Grandage orchestrates this brilliantly. The Irish accents (perfect to my Nottinghamshire ear), the gags, the thumps all bounce along perfectly, and you feel every jab and shot.
Aidan Turner (Poldark sans sythe) is Mad Padraic. At first I thought well he’s the straight man so easy peasy but as the absurdity ratchets up his perfect comic timing is what keeps things ticking. The dufus duo of old man Donny (Denis Conway ) and young man Davey (Chris Walley) works beautifully as they natter endlessly as the carnage unfolds around them. Charlie Murphy as the young, aspiring paramilitary is eerily dead behind the eyes. Just like the Childish Gambino video for This is America which swept round the internet like wildfire (Google it) this has a spookily unfeeling quality. The gags have us all roaring but when someone with a blank expression “brains” someone with two handguns 2 feet from their head, 900 gobs took a sharp intake of breath. It lampoons terrorism but also gives you a flavour of the giddy mindless emptiness of it.
A funnier, more chilling, more satisfying comedy you will not find.
Until 8th September