The Lieutenant of Inishmore
RSC at the Barbican Pit
Martin McDonagh's latest play seems to be amongst other things an attempt to out-Kane Sarah Kane. It is not for the squeamish as, during the course of the play, more eyes are lost than in the whole of Shakespeare and blood-soaked bodies become the norm.
However, for those who have strong stomachs, this is an exceptionally funny play. McDonagh has already built up a big reputation with his first four plays. Many, including this reviewer, rate The Beauty Queen of Leenane as at least as fine a play as Conor McPherson's The Weir.
Within the structure of a surreal and very tasteless comedy, McDonagh addresses some serious Irish issues, to wit religion and civil war. The play is set in the present day and is centred on a mad INLA recruit, David Wilmot as Padraic, who decides to form his own splinter group of one.
However, he has already gone too far, torturing all and sundry including members of his own side. In doing so, he has caused a major problem. While this is supposedly a holy war, economics are critical and injuring the drug pusher who finances the war is unacceptable. This is the case even if it saves the lives of children who would otherwise become the junkies of the future. Violence is also bad for tourism.
It soon becomes apparent that Padraic has three great loves. The first of these not surprisingly is his country, the second is his cat, wee Tommy, and the last, as the play develops, is 16 year-old Mairead, a tomboy with a shotgun. She is played by Kerry Conlon who seems far better suited to this role than she was to Ophelia. She somehow manages to convince in a difficult part reminiscent of a character from Ben Elton's Popcorn. The shifts from violence to passion are carried through beautifully by both Conlon and Wilmot.
Much of the humour is completely tasteless, very black but still extremely funny. Simon Bond once found 101 Uses for a Dead Cat and sold numberless books. Martin McDonagh has found almost as many more with which to entertain his audience.
There are also some subtle little touches brought out by director Wilson Milam, who recently cut his teeth, Irish-wise, on the Billy Roche Wexford Trilogy which was a marvellous success at the Tricycle. This time around, we see the way in which even bad Catholic boys constantly feel a need to confess and unwittingly take up the poses that they commonly use at prayer. This is particularly the case with a gun at the back of their heads.
Amidst all of the blood and guts, this parable also has a much more serious message. This is that all of the Irish violence, whether perpetrated by Protestants or Catholics, mainstream or splinter groups, is ultimately futile and the final message that one gets from this play is this sense of religion ultimately needing to win out over the futility.
As well as strong performances from Conlon and Wilmot, Owen Sharpe as Davey, looking as if he has stepped straight out of Wayne's World, and Trevor Cooper as Donny both show great comic abilities, primarily in several ludicrous situations.
It is likely that this play may prove too strong for most tastes. It is reputed that the two London theatres that have previously put on plays by McDonagh have previously turned it down. Having had great success at the Barbican, it has now managed a much-deserved West End transfer to the Garrick. If the gore does put some off, that would be a shame as while this may not be quite as moving as McDonagh's previous work, it is nevertheless very enjoyable.
This review originally appeared on Theatreworld in a slightly different version.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher