Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The Cripple of Innishmaan - Noel Coward Theatre, Friday 14th June 2013

Set on the remote island of Inishmaan off the west coast of Ireland just before the outbreak of WW2,  word arrives that a Hollywood film is being made on the neighboring island of Inishmore. The one person who wants to be in the film more than anybody is young Cripple Billy, if only to break away from the bitter tedium of his daily life.  Billy forges a doctor's letter saying that he has TB and only months to live in order to get sympathy from Babbybobby and a ride in his boat over to Inishmore, where he is spotted by the Director and taken to Hollywood for a screen test.  Having failed the test, Cripple Billy returns home to find that life will probably never be the same.  Finally finding  out the truth regarding his parents' apparent suicide, Fate has a couple of surprises still in store for him.

Kate Osbourne - Ingrid Craigie
Gillian Osbourne, her sister - Gillian Hanna
Johnnypateenmike - Pat Short
Billy - Daniel Radcliffe
Bartley McCormick - Conor MacNeill
Helen McCormick, his sister - Sarah Greene
Babbybobby - Padraic Delaney
Doctor - Gary Lilburn
Mammy, Johnnypateenmike's elderly mother - June Watson
Creative Team:
Written by Martin McDonagh
Director: Michael Grandage
Set and costumes - Christopher Oram
Lighting - Paule Constable

I think if you were any member of the cast other than Daniel Radcliffe, you would be really quite peed off with both the Noel Coward Theatre and Mr. Grandage.  Not only is Mr. Radcliffe’s mug plastered up all over the outside of the theatre and all over the programme cover (just him, mind you), but he is the only member of the cast given a solo bow at the end of the show.  Full company bow, solo bow by Mr. Radcliffe, full company bow, solo bow by Mr. Radcliffe, curtain.   Yes, I know he’s young, pretty and Harry Potter (there were at least two sad middle-aged women having their picture taken outside the theatre of them draping themselves over the pictures of Mr. Potter) and a very bankable star name, but this play is very much an ensemble piece (and, frankly, the role of Billy is not actually a very big one).  There are other people in it, is what I’m getting at.  But you wouldn’t know it. 

From the same pen as The Beauty Queen of Leenane, this is  quite a slight play, but with similarly dark overtones and lots of the same kind of comedy.  Like Beauty Queen, there are several points where the plot turns on a sixpence, and you are sit there thinking “Oh my god [this] is going to happen” but then it suddenly doesn’t and the plot twists away in another direction, and you are left sitting there feeling that you have been taken up the garden path and then dumped among the hydrangeas feeling stupid.  There seemed to be very little actual plot, and I’m not entirely sure what the audience were expecting but there were an awful lot fewer people in the auditorium after the interval.  I could have done with two fewer people in the auditorium all the way through – the two idiot teenage boys sitting next to me.  One of them tried to get past on his way to his seat and then barged by before I had managed to get up (narrowly missing poorly foot) and had not yet learned how to blow his nose on a handkerchief and treated everyone in the vicinity to a loud and bubbly nasal symphony every five minutes or so, and neither of them had worked out how to get sweets out of a small cardboard box quietly nor how to drink through a straw without a) blowing bubbles in the drink first and  b) making that loud slurping noise you get when the drink is running out and you are chasing the dregs of fluid around the bottom of the cup.  Needless to say, one of them had a mobile phone which went off during a quiet bit in the second half. 

Most of this play is very, very funny – leaning towards the “Craggy Island” style.  And a certain amount is very, very dark.  And the stage is very, very dark for a lot of the time as well – off towards the wings everything fades into obscurity  - thankfully most of the action is well centred on stage but there is at least one (non-essential but funny) part involving a bible that you may well miss unless you have been eating all your carrots.  The funny lines come so thick and fast that you could miss a lot of the jokes because you are laughing so much, and then it all gets very serious, and then very funny again and then very serious – leaving me feeling rather like I was sitting on a rollercoaster.  It gets a little tiring eventually.  Mr. Radcliffe's accent wanders a bit now and again.

It would be invidious to pick out any individual performance because, as I said before, this is an ensemble piece – unless you are Daniel Radcliffe – and everyone is very good.  Sometimes the Irish brogues are a bit too thick to be penetrable and sometimes the dialogue goes too fast for comfort, but overall its well-paced and slick throughout, which is fortunate because it could become self-indulgent at a slower pace.  The lighting  could be better at times, but all in all it’s a fun evening out, even if the plot is essentially unrealistic.  Why people walked out at the interval I don’t know – perhaps they were expecting Mr. Radcliffe to be whizzing round the stage on a Nimbus 2000?  Apparently he was handed a pile of scripts by Mr. Grandage and told “pick one you fancy being in and we’ll do it”.  It is to Mr. Radcliffe’s credit that he picked something which didn’t supply him with a  “star vehicle” to the detriment of the rest of the cast.  I would still have liked to see everyone get their own bow at the final curtain, however. 

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