It’s 1934 and an American film crew has arrived in Ireland to film Man of Aran (a real life filum). This news casts a spell on the inhabitants of the Irish island of Inishmaan, and a plan is hatched amongst the townsfolk to row to the film set, and participate in the filming.
Among those dreaming of the limelight is Cripple Billy, whose aspirations are disparaged by his peers. It transpires Billy is not a blameless saint, as he possesses a penchant for mendacity. We meet matricidal Johnny, whose M.O. is to gather news (or town gossip) and disseminate it to those who can withstand his presence for long enough.
Kate and Eileen, who act as Billy’s aunts, are deeply worried by Billy’s sudden absence. McDonagh deals with his favourite themes of mental illness, uncertainty, loss, and broken dreams; and tempers it all with his trademark hilarity and incisive social commentary.
The Cripple of Inishmaan saw its first production in 1996 at the Royal National Theatre in London, and opened Off-Broadway in 1998 at the Joseph Papp Public Theatre. It had an Off-Broadway revival in 2008, and returned in 2013 for a sold out West End and Broadway run starring Daniel Radcliffe.
Playwright Martin McDonagh, whose parents are Irish, was born and raised in London. He’s a highly decorated playwright, screenwriter, producer and director. He won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film, and was nominated on three other occasions.
McDonagh has also picked up three BAFTA Awards and Two Golden Globe Awards. He has noted in the past a preference for film over theatre, even going as far as to record a slight disrespect for the theatre.
William Rees portrays disabled teenager Billy with great heart; his earnestness is his most endearing quality. It’s a remarkable performance for a seventeen year old. He appears to be at the beginning of a highly promising career. Laurence Coy is immensely funny as the gossip Johnny; he has skilfully crafted two very distinct personas for Johnny’s public and private performances.
Jane Watt plays Helen with a captivating and vivacious cruelty; she’s a hilarious whirl wind of violence and frustrated desire, contributing significantly to the production’s verve. Josh Anderson is hilarious as Bartley; clearly a crowd favourite.
Director Claudia Barrie manages the balance of tragedy and comedy with distinction; she draws laughs in the all the right places, and we also feel intensely the sadness of these lives as they battle depression, loneliness, and isolation. This is a talented director on the up and up. The accent work was particularly strong (perhaps the best I’ve heard), with credit to Voice and Dialect Coach Amanda Stephens-Lee.
The Cripple of Inishmaan is an intoxicating cocktail of compassion and cruelty, from one of the most celebrated living writers for theatre and screen. Most of all, it’s very funny.
The Cripple of Inishmaan
Old Fitz Theatre, 129 Dowling Street, Woolloomooloo
Performance: Saturday 13 July 2019 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 10 August 2019
Information and Bookings: www.redlineproductions.com.au
Image: William Rees stars as Billy in The Cripple of Inishmaan – photo by Marnya Rothe Photography
Review: Oliver Wakelin