SELECTION OF REVIEWS FOR THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN WHICH OPENED IN GALWAY ON SEPTEMBER 16th, 2008.
THE IRISH TIMES REVIEW
September 18th, 2008
Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan premiered almost 12 years ago at London's Royal National Theatre in a production that toured briefly to Ireland in the summer of 1997. That version was lively and likeable, featuring marvellous direction by Nicholas Hytner and an unforgettable performance by Aisling O'Sullivan.
But, looking back, it could be argued that Hytner's production moved too quickly, and placed too much emphasis on the play's humorous qualities. Because audiences were too busy laughing to think about what they were seeing, some critics suggested that the play itself was superficial. Others claimed that it was heartless, observing correctly that The Cripple is a savage play - but because audiences weren't given time to understand that savagery, they also formed the impression that it is a cruel play.
Under Garry Hynes's direction, this Druid production (co-produced with New York's Atlantic Theater) allows us to appreciate the play's depth and complexity without sacrificing any of its comedic power.
Hynes's production is, quite literally, darker than any we've seen before. The set and costumes by Francis O'Connor are presented in muted colours, with his faded greens and soft greys offset only occasionally with flashes of crimson and red. The lighting by Davy Cunningham is similarly harsh: the only warmth on stage comes from an oil lamp hanging tenuously from the flies.
We now understand why McDonagh's characters are so desperate to escape this environment - by fleeing to Hollywood, telling stories or committing suicide. The dramatic energy of this production therefore arises from a clash between the characters' compulsion to imagine a better life and their obligation to accept the fact that their choices are limited to what they see in front of them. Hynes makes it easy for us to engage emotionally with that conflict, channelling it through two characters: the eponymous Cripple Billy, played with a dignified restraint by Aaron Monaghan, and Johnnypateenmike, Inishmaan's version of a tabloid journalist. As performed by David Pearse (pictured), the latter character is full of exaggerated gestures and mannerisms that only make sense in the play's final moments, when we realise that his excesses are directly proportional to the bleakness of life on Inishmaan. Johnnypateenmike may claim that he loves hearing bad news because it allows him to tell great stories, but Pearse shows that the character's love of storytelling is the only adequate response to his environment.
This, then, is an intelligent and compassionate production of an important Irish play. The Cripple of Inishmaan remains a well-observed satire on Ireland's obsession with how it's seen by the outside world.
But what is much clearer now is this: Martin McDonagh is not just a brilliant storyteller, but a brilliant analyst of the importance of storytelling.
September 19th 2008
Martin McDonagh's potent blend of humor and savagery is given additional poignancy in Garry Hynes' revival of his 1997 play, "The Cripple of Inishmaan," premiering at Druid Theater's home base in Galway before transferring Off Broadway to the Atlantic Theater Company in December. Set on the Aran Islands in 1934, the black comedy is slowed down and given somber treatment here, with an impeccable cast that pays close attention to the rhythms of McDonagh's dialogue.
The tone is set by Aaron Monaghan's superbly sensitive central performance as Cripple Billy, the orphan with twisted limbs who longs to escape from his island home -- and his fate. Staring at cows and reading books are his main activities, until the film crew making "The Man of Aran" arrives on the neighboring island of Inishmore. Billy dreams of a new life in Hollywood, where he figures crippled actors are bound to be in demand.
The mythic view of the West of Ireland presented in the 1934 Robert Flaherty movie is casually punctured by the islanders in a comic scene in which they watch the film and are unimpressed. While the locals don't recognize themselves in the portrayal, they are gratified by the external validation it represents.
Throughout the play, characters continually repeat the refrain that "Ireland mustn't be such a bad place" if foreigners want to visit it. This anxiety about how the country is perceived wittily anticipates the reception of McDonagh's own satirical re-imagining of rural Ireland, in this play and in "The Leenane Trilogy." Some Irish observers have uncomfortably wondered whether they are the butt of his humor, while international audiences have questioned whether the world depicted in his plays is "real."
Druid's production creates an Inishmaan distilled by memory. Francis O'Connor's stripped, blue-tinged wooden set and Davy Cunningham's shadowy lighting establish a mood of restrained melancholy, matched by Hynes' grasp of emotional nuance.
That Billy's passage by boat to Inishmore is secured by a lie that eventually comes true is one of many ironies McDonagh scatters throughout this play, in which the relationship between truth and invention is constantly slipping and shifting. In this isolated world, language has become unmoored from reality.
Billy's two aunts, Eileen (Dearbhla Molloy) and Kate (Marie Mullen), engage in comic dialogue, full of repetition and reiteration. Hynes directs these scenes with slow deliberation, amid a sea of silence, emphasizing their artificial, almost ritualized pattern, in which the characters comment on their own words and criticize each other's choice of vocabulary.
This self-consciousness is taken to an extreme in the mannered characterization of eccentric Johnnypateenmike (David Pearse), "the most boring aul fecker in Ireland." The main conduit for island information, he delivers news in three installments, ascribing significance to trivia. A prototype of a sleazy tabloid hack, his prized nuggets of information are bartered for eggs and tins of peas.
Pearse plays him in an exaggerated mode, full of high-pitched flourishes, which sacrifices a lot of the humor and tries the audience's patience as much as that of the other characters. Yet Johnnypateenmike is more complex than he first appears. His unreliability as a narrator becomes crucial later on, when his ability to spin a yarn about the past saves Billy from finding out the bleak truth about his parents.
In McDonagh's unpredictable world, ironic reversals prevent us from making easy assumptions. The kind-hearted boatman can turn viciously violent; the wantonly sadistic teaser (Kerry Condon) can finally summon some sympathy for Billy. And it would be hard not to: Monaghan's performance is the emotional core of this production, which brings new depth to one of McDonagh's best plays.
Set and costumes, Francis O’Connor; lighting, Davy Cunningham; original music, Colin Townes; sound, John Leonard; production stage manager, Eamonn Fox. Opened Sept. 16, 2008. Reviewed Sept. 18. Running time: 2 HOURS, 15 MIN.
THE GUARDIAN REVIEW
October 10th, 2008
I know I'm not alone in sometimes questioning the authenticity of Martin McDonagh's tales of small-town Irish life, but I'm a true believer now, having seen Garry Hynes's bleakly brilliant revival of McDonagh's 1997 play for Druid Theatre Company. Nicholas Hytner's National Theatre premiere played it for sympathy and laughs, but Hynes offers a darkly savage account of lives stunted in a small 1930s rural community.
For the orphaned, crippled Billy - living with his obsessional adopted aunts, who run the local store - the future is running out. When a Hollywood film company pitches up, he seizes the opportunity to escape and make his dreams come true. In a reflection on lies and truth, realities and fantasies, the face we show to the world and the heart we hide, McDonagh offers a cast of characters whose frail humanity is tested by the fictions that they weave. "Don't go romanticising it," declares village gossipmonger Johnnypateenmike when Billy, trying to discover the truth about his parents' drowning, suggests that his deformities might have been caused by his father punching his pregnant mother in the stomach.
This is a break-your-heart, cruelly funny evening directed with an exhilarating ruthlessness and acted with a bracing lack of sentimentality. Aaron Monaghan is terrific as Billy, whose lies become a truth, Dearbhla Molloy and Marie Mullen's anxious aunts seem to have stepped straight out of a Beckett play, and as Helen, the young woman who has learned to ferociously protect herself, Kerry Condon is as fierce as a polecat.