Theatre Review: The Cripple Of Inishmaan

‘The Cripple Of Inishmaan’ was written by Irish playwright screenwriter, Martin McDonagh, best known for his humorously dark films ‘In Bruges’ and ‘Seven Psychopaths’.

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Matt Houston as 'The Cripple Of Inishmaan'
Matt Houston as ‘The Cripple Of Inishmaan’

Presented by Adelaide Repertory Theatre
Reviewed 3 September 2015

The Cripple of Inishmaan is a “feckin” good night’s entertainment! Although presented by an amateur theatre company, there is nothing amateur about the Adelaide Repertory Theatre’s production of this oddball insight into a small, isolated, Irish community in the years preceding World War 2.

The play was originally written in 1994 by the now famous Irish playwright, director and screenwriter, Martin McDonagh, best known for his humorously dark films In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. The Cripple of Inishmaan is part of McDonagh’s Aran Islands Trilogy which seems to be a nod to his parents’ small-town Irish origins, where he would often holiday and observe those around him.

Set in 1934, the play follows the lives of several residents of the Island of Inishmaan. The central character is Cripple Billy (played by an impressively emotive Matt Houston), a young disabled man who wishes to leave his boring life (he passes the time by staring at cows) and go to Hollywood where he hopes to find stardom. As we experience Billy’s life of tedium and ridicule, we also encounter the many oddball characters that populate his world.

These fiercely individual and eccentric characters seem to be the product of small town life, and are similar to the wonderfully strange townsfolk of The Vicar of Dibley and Father Ted. Standout characters include the harsh and brutish “Slippy” Helen who seems to be at war with the world and is particularly cruel to the hapless Billy. Mary Rose Angley delivers a brilliantly aggressive, “feckin” angry, physically intimidating performance that has characters fleeing in all directions. One of these is her slightly simple brother Bartley, whose frustrating personality is played with great comic effect by Benjamin Maio Mackay. Equally entertaining is John Leigh Gray’s performance of Johnnypateenmike, a callous gossip who delights in stirring up trouble among the slow-witted island folk whose charity he lives off. A personal favourite was the wonderful Eleanor Boyd, who despite only being on stage for a couple of scenes, gives a hilariously memorable performance as Johnnypateenmike’s alcoholic and argumentative mother, Mammy. Despite these individual mentions, all of the actors play their parts to the highest standard and create an unforgettable theatrical experience.

McDonagh has created an often laugh out loud comedy where much of the humour focuses on brutally honest jokes made at the expense of others (especially Billy’s handicap). The dark comedy also plays upon classically Irish cultural references such as the Church (and perverted priests) and the Irish love of alcohol. Although predominately comic in nature, the play provides narrative surprises with moments of pathos that leave the audience stunned and emotional. It is mainly Matt Houston’s performance which creates these moments, evoking the audience’s sympathy for Billy’s plight. Other surprises come late in the play when the most callous of characters reveal unexpectedly sensitive sides to their previously heartless personalities.

This wonderful production by director Kerrin White merits a full house for every show, so if you take a chance on only one play this year, make it The Cripple of Inishmaan, because it truly deserves to be supported by Adelaide’s theatre-goers.

Reviewed by Georgina Smerd
Twitter: @Georgie_xox

Venue: Arts Theatre, 53 Angas Street, Adelaide
Season: 3 – 12 September
Duration: 2 hours 30 minutes (including 20 minute interval)
Tickets: $17.00 – $22.00
Bookings: online at http://www.trybooking.com/Booking/BookingEventSummary.aspx?eid=114885

 

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