“The Lieutenant of Inishmore” by Martin McDonagh

at the Loft Theatre, Monday 21st February 2011

How does he do it? Every time, Martin McDonagh manages to make gallons of blood and countless guts seem like the funniest thing we have ever seen. And although the actions are mindless, his characters never seem completely bleached of emotion. The Lieutenant of Inishmore, McDonagh’s 2001 play, is testament to this. Even though the stage is eventually littered with six corpses (two cat, four human), a morsel of humanity never fails to shine through. Gordon Vallins’ production at the Loft Theatre highlights this while forcing us to consider the farcical nature of the violence we watch unfold.

Padraic (Jimmy Proctor) is a member of the Irish National Liberation Army, a role lusted after by Mairead (Eva Clifford). They dream of the liberation of the Irish people and a revolution which will change their world. They talk of becoming a splinter group, and eventually a splinter of a splinter, which only serves to heighten the sense of ridiculousness surrounding the operation of terrorists. These sections of the play are late 20th Century versions of scenes in Four Lions.

Only a glimpse of this world is given, however, as the major focus is on the house of Padraic’s father Donny (Gus MacDonald), which Mairead’s brother Davey (David Tennyson) regularly frequents. This pairing is close to Laurel and Hardy, and Vallins’ direction often emphasises the physicality in these scenes. The comedy is found in the overspill of the terrorist groups into this suburban setting, arguing over petty things. Namely the death of a cat or two.

The performances are generally strong; Proctor in the central role is most impressive, seething with disappointment throughout and exerting huge amounts of energy in the final scenes. Clifford shows clearly that hers is the only character with any sort of development, and MacDonald has the audience in stitches throughout. Weakest is Tennyson, who never really finds out whether or not his character is supposed to understand what is happening and sometimes struggles to keep a straight face. This is remedied, however, by Andy MacCallum as Christy, the antagonist of the piece, who throughout supports violence but eventually redeems himself with a final touch of humanity.

Gordon Vallins’ design is as impressive as his direction; the simple set portrays a lived-in home which easily becomes a bloodbath as gallons are literally poured over the playing area. James Ruffell’s sound offers a touch of genius, blasting through Irish-inspired rock music through the speakers to show the mix of rural and city in the play.

The Lieutenant of Inishmore is McDonagh at his best, mixing bloody violence with careful wit to create a piece of theatre which never fails to amaze. His script is laden with one liners and twists deftly handled by Vallins and his cast. All of which is mixed with enough blood for even an over-the-top production of Titus Andronicus. What more could you want?

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