By Hilary Cordery
BLT is no stranger to the plays of Martin McDonagh. Previous seasons have treated us to acclaimed productions of The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Cripple of Inishmaan. BLT’s latest production of The Lieutenant of Inishmore, the festivals entry this year, continued the trend of marrying great writing with a very high standard of production – although the play wasn’t for those of a squeamish disposition or cat-lovers!
It is the early 1990s in Northern Ireland. Mad INLA recruit Padraic (convincingly played by Richard Stewart), has formed a terrorist splinter group of 1. It soon becomes apparent that as much as Padraic loves his country, so does he love his cat, “wee Thomas”. So when we discover in the opening scene that the “fecking” cat has been killed in Padraic’s absence, we feel the fear.
Chris Learmouth as Davey and Matthew Platt as Donny, the hapless pair who hilariously attempt to hide the fact of wee Thomas’s death, made a wonderful comedic pairing and provided much of the hilarity of the play. These were two experienced actors who were entirely at home both with each other and, noticeably, with the rhythm and intonation of the Irish language which they used to great effect to heighten the comedy. Congratulations to both.
We meet Padraic in the excruciating torture scene that follows. Drugs-dealer James (Daniel Ryan) is suspended by his feet on chains and covered in blood. Having already removed his toenails, Padraic is deciding his next “agenda item”, likely to be the nipples! I loved Stewart’s sinister whistling as Padraic pondered his next horrendous move, and his casual “I’ll be back with you in a minute James” having taken a phone call mid-butchery was delightful. And Ryan must surely deserve a Sarnie for the best upside-down acting of the year! This was a terrific scene. Plaudits to Stage Manager Emma Christmas and set designer Dave Armour for staging it so brilliantly.
In the lead role of Padraic, I was impressed with the way that Stewart fully inhabited his warped, nationalist world, where violence is just the every day. Stewart particularly convinced in his speech upon learning of the death of wee Thomas, his “best friend for 15 years”. I really felt that Padraic’s “whole world was gone”. Occasionally I would have welcomed a little more menace in the characterisation, but overall this was a well-judged and suitably unhinged performance.
It becomes apparent that the 3rd love of Padraic’s life is Mairead, (Charis Anna Mostert), an androgynous tomboy with a shotgun. The romance between Padraic and Mairead evolved nicely although I have to say suffered a little from up-staging by Donny and Davey who were merrily chopping up body parts during one of the key love scenes.
As the only female character in the play I thought that Mairead was a difficult part, requiring shifts from violence to passion and ultimately having to convince the audience that she could be the next Lieutenant after Padraic’s death. Having seen Mostert in a number of productions she is undoubtedly an accomplished actress, but I felt at times that she had been a little overlooked by the director in this production and needed more focus to bring out the range of which she is capable.
As the terrorist group who Padraic has rejected, Christy (Richard Toynton), Brendan (James Mercer) and Joey (Daniel Ryan’s 2nd role) worked well together in their supporting roles and kept the acting standard high.
The staging of the play was generally excellent although, personally, I am not a fan of acting in front of a curtain. Feels a little variety show to me. The cottage and warehouse scenes however looked great.
Overall, this was a very funny (if not macabre) and exciting show, directed and played with great pace. Whilst it will no doubt not be to everyone’s taste, it was hugely appreciated by the audience on the night I saw the show.
As for the theme of the play, and as director Paul Campion notes in the programme, sadly terrorism in the form of “Jihadi Johns” is all too prevalent some 20 years after the play is set. With this production, Campion successfully highlighted the idiocy and dangerous delusions of those lured into the supposed glamour it represents.
And finally, has BLT ever seen so much blood and gore on stage? I doubt it. Good luck to cast and crew with the festivals, and well done on a fecking great production.