Martin McDonagh’s black comedy The Cripple of Inishmaan is a feckin’ good play and Kerrin White’s Adelaide Rep production is a feckin’ good show.
Inishmaan is a small Irish island and it abounds with characters young and old, but this story centres around a young man who is badly crippled. The Irish love a good story and enjoy a reputation for stretching the truth a little, so it is hard to know in this community what is truth and what is fiction.
McDonagh is well known for his plays, including The Beauty Queen of Leenane and the hard-hitting The Pillowman; he also directed the film In Bruges. His characters are beautifully drawn and he has a penchant for juxtaposing comedy and drama. The Cripple of Inishmaan is very funny and very moving.
The action takes place primarily in a small, modest store which has shelves stacked full of cans of peas and is run by the two aunts of the “cripple”, Billy. Sue Wylie and Tracey Walker set the scene for the production with their well-developed characterisations and slick timing.
Matt Houston, in the role of Billy, has taken a huge leap in the acting world by creating the physicality of the disabled young man, making the most of the comedy that is ever-present in McDonagh’s lines and achieving the poignancy and depth required that make this a great play and study of humanity.
John Leigh Gray portrays the drunken, gossipy Johnnypateenmike with a sense of mischief and malevolence, while Eleanor Boyd makes the most of her time on stage, savouring every laugh she has been given as the drunken Mammy. Mary Rose Angley is entertaining and energetic as the tomboyish, rough-spoken, pugnacious and charming Helen, and she spars well with Bartley, the young, naive, slightly thick young man, played convincingly by Benjamin Mackay.
The Cripple of Inishmaan is a demanding play and the entire cast rises to the challenges: the accents are good, there are plenty of laughs, and numerous moments that are emotional and thought provoking.
White has used the stage well, with a white scrim hiding the major set so smaller scenes can be played in front. This production effectively and believably creates an Irish small island community.
McDonagh plays with his audience by setting us up to believe one thing when something entirely contradictory occurs; his writing style makes for very entertaining theatre and he does not allow an audience to get too comfortable. There is plenty of frank talking in this play about sexual encounters, but the subject is also dealt with tenderly: characters that appear nasty are able to reveal their more tender natures, and those with disabilities are mocked and then shown compassion.
Good on the Adelaide Rep for choosing a show which provides such good opportunities for the cast and offers an audience a guaranteed satisfying night out.
Adelaide Repertory Theatre is presenting The Cripple of Inishmaan at the Arts Theatre until September 12.
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