Non-Fringe Festival reviews

The Cripple of Inishmaan

Town Hall Theatre, Galway

Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan premiered almost 12 years ago at London's Royal National Theatre in a production that toured briefly to Ireland in the summer of 1997. That version was lively and likeable, featuring marvellous direction by Nicholas Hytner and an unforgettable performance by Aisling O'Sullivan.

But, looking back, it could be argued that Hytner's production moved too quickly, and placed too much emphasis on the play's humorous qualities. Because audiences were too busy laughing to think about what they were seeing, some critics suggested that the play itself was superficial. Others claimed that it was heartless, observing correctly that The Cripple is a savage play - but because audiences weren't given time to understand that savagery, they also formed the impression that it is a cruel play.

Under Garry Hynes's direction, this Druid production (co-produced with New York's Atlantic Theater) allows us to appreciate the play's depth and complexity without sacrificing any of its comedic power.

Hynes's production is, quite literally, darker than any we've seen before. The set and costumes by Francis O'Connor are presented in muted colours, with his faded greens and soft greys offset only occasionally with flashes of crimson and red. The lighting by Davy Cunningham is similarly harsh: the only warmth on stage comes from an oil lamp hanging tenuously from the flies.

We now understand why McDonagh's characters are so desperate to escape this environment - by fleeing to Hollywood, telling stories or committing suicide. The dramatic energy of this production therefore arises from a clash between the characters' compulsion to imagine a better life and their obligation to accept the fact that their choices are limited to what they see in front of them. Hynes makes it easy for us to engage emotionally with that conflict, channelling it through two characters: the eponymous Cripple Billy, played with a dignified restraint by Aaron Monaghan, and Johnnypateenmike, Inishmaan's version of a tabloid journalist. As performed by David Pearse (pictured), the latter character is full of exaggerated gestures and mannerisms that only make sense in the play's final moments, when we realise that his excesses are directly proportional to the bleakness of life on Inishmaan. Johnnypateenmike may claim that he loves hearing bad news because it allows him to tell great stories, but Pearse shows that the character's love of storytelling is the only adequate response to his environment.

This, then, is an intelligent and compassionate production of an important Irish play. The Cripple of Inishmaan remains a well-observed satire on Ireland's obsession with how it's seen by the outside world.

But what is much clearer now is this: Martin McDonagh is not just a brilliant storyteller, but a brilliant analyst of the importance of storytelling.

Until Sept 27, tours to Cork, Dublin Theatre Festival, Longford, Portlaoise, Ennis, Tralee, Letterkenny, Dún Laoghaire and New York PATRICK LONERGAN

Dunne, London Irish Camerata/Hunka

National Gallery, Dublin

Mozart - Eine kleine Nachtmusik. Molique/Krieg - Accordion Concerto. Tchaikovsky - Serenade for Strings. Piazzolla/Dunne - Escualo; Oblivion; Adios Nonino.

The London Irish Camerata is more or less exactly what its name suggests. It's a chamber orchestra founded as a showcase for the talents of Irish players - all of them in their 20s - who are based in London. The group launched itself in London in 2006, made its inaugural Irish tour late last year, and gave the final concert of its 2008 Irish tour at the National Gallery, when the director was Katherine Hunka.

The orchestra's performing style, stronger and surer in the lower instruments than among the violins, is eager and emotionally free.

It was not always clear here whether everything the players did resulted from the encouragement of Hunka as director or was instead a kind of musical pulling at the leash.

The opening few bars of Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik featured the kind of provocative dynamic reshaping favoured by so many period-instrument bands, but carried out on a scale that the romantic conductors of a century ago would have shunned.

Extremes of response were the order of the day in Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings, too, with the impact of the moment always seeming to take precedence over issues of longer-term shaping. The approach made for an exciting, switchback-ride style of music-making.

There was excitement aplenty, too, in the contributions of accordionist Dermot Dunne. He played a Concerto for Concertina by German composer Bernhard Molique (1802-69), arranged for accordion by Franz Krieg, and three tangos by Astor Piazzolla, arranged by Dunne. The outer movements of the Molique gave Dunne copious opportunity to show off the often ethereally light fleetness of his fingerwork, and he sounded equally at home in the sugar-dusted pleasantries of the central slow movement.

The orchestral playing, taking its cue from the soloist, was altogether more sensibly shaped in the Molique than in the Mozart and Tchaikovsky, and the players were able to let their hair down in style in the three contrasting tangos by Piazzolla. Here, however, the over-size violin solo (credited to Ariel Hernandez) seemed to take up too much space, in spite of Hunka's spunky delivery. MICHAEL DERVAN