Terrorism is no laughing matter but Martin McDonagh actually makes it both funny and thought-provoking by satirising the more demented forms of political extremism in his biting, blood-strewn 1994 comedy, The Lieutenant of Inishmore.

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Terrorism is no laughing matter but Martin (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) McDonagh actually makes it both funny and thought-provoking by satirising the more demented forms of political extremism in his biting, blood-strewn 1994 comedy, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, which returns to the West End (Noel Coward Theatre) in a gripping new production, directed by Michael Grandage.

At the centre of the story is Mad Padraic, a terrorist so brutal that he has been thrown out of the IRA and its offshoot the INLA (both of which were actively killing people when the play was originally staged). Padraic has done it all: he’s tortured drug dealers, bombed civilians and drawn up a list of future victims. But he’s not totally heartless: his dearly beloved cat, Wee Thomas, is ill and races home to Inishmore to comfort the poor creature. Not fooled by desperate attempts to cover an orange cat with shoe polish to disguise Wee Thomas’ demise, Padraic vows revenge on his dad, Danny and on the animal’s assumed killer, Davey. But the plot thickens and the blood flows as Padraic is himself assailed by murderous gunmen and rescued only by Davey’s wild sister.

This is comedy at its blackest, which now seems strangely prescient. It is obviously about Ireland but its portrait of the sentimentality and sanctimonious rhetoric that often lies behind terrorist violence has acquired new resonance. When Padraic tortures a small time drug pusher who corrupts catholic kids or declares “I’m interested in no social activities that don’t involve the freeing of Ulster”, we might be listening to any form of religious fanaticism. McDonagh’s real gift however is for pushing a situation to its most brutal extreme and making it seem absurd. The script by McDonagh is well paced and punchy foul language, misunderstandings and one liners so sharp you feel for your safety, abound in glorious and manic dialogue.

Christopher Oram has created a vividly realistic set- a stone walled cottage where blood sprays the window panes as in a splatter movie.

Aiden Turner, the swoon-inducing star of BBC’s Poldark, makes a magnetic West End debut as Padraic. He plays him not as some wild-eyed barbarian but as a man endowed with a demented innocence and my abiding image is of him caressing his dead cat with a tenderness he never displayed to humans. Charlie Murphy, Chris Walley and Denis Conway all provide solid support as the girl for whom he finally falls, her hapless brother and as Padraic’s dad respectively.

Above all, the play asks us to reconsider our attitudes to violence, nationalism and even the relative values of human and animal life.

Plays until September 8th.

Box Office: 0844 482 5141

 

Images courtesy of Johan Persson

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