The Lieutenant of Inishmore Royal Shakespeare Company, The Other Place, Stratford-upon-Avon
Martin McDonagh has already written off the third play of his Aran trilogy, The Banshees of Inishmore, describing it as "rubbish" and in need of a rewrite before he will allow it to be staged anywhere. The second of the three, which finally opened in Stratford on Friday night to an enthusiastic reception from its largely English audience, had been around for some years (and turned down by several theatres) before the RSC took an option on it. Undoubtedly, it is the goriest of even McDonagh's work: only three of the eight characters survive to the final curtain and three of the corpses have been dismembered on stage by then.
It is a fiercely angry play and will win much support in these islands for the anger it directs against Irish paramilitaries (specifically the INLA) for the carnage they have committed. This laudable anger is, presumably, driven by the playwright's Irish background. But the writing seems to come more from McDonagh's London upbringing: it is less recognisable as "Synge-song" and much more streetwise than is evident in any of the Leenane trilogy. And, to a point, the anger has blinded its author so that the caricatures he has created in place of characters do not have even the semblance of a resemblance either to Aran islanders or to the members of the INLA - or even most other paramilitaries.
Every caricature is dim-witted to the point of retardation, and violence seems endemic in all souls. It is, of course, a seriously surreal piece of theatre. But its surreality is such that any kind of suspension of disbelief becomes almost impossible, so that its considerable comedy and its angry gore become almost irrelevant to the actual situation about which the author is angry and at which he is farcically laughing.
Under Wilson Milam's energetic direction, the cast delivers substantial creative energy, which unquestionably holds the attention. Seldom has so much stage blood been so effectively squirted and directed. David Wilmot's crazy Padraic (a self-appointed second lieutenant in the INLA when he is not moping about his missing cat) is more than literally gripping, and Kerry Condon's Mairead (a crack shot with an air rifle) is a genuinely unsettling 16-year-old. Some of the rest have occasional accentual uncertainties, but Trevor Cooper provides a strong presence as Padraic's father, and Owen Sharpe has his moments as Mairead's brother.
In repertoire at The Other Place until October 12th. Information, performance dates and booking: 0044-1789-403403.