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REVIEW: The Lieutenant of Inishmore

Guts, guns, and blood galore in this dramatic tale of feline infelicity

Despite arriving in the theatre to find a homely, cluttered scene, at the end of The Lieutenant of Inishmore the audience is made to clamber over butchered limbs to leave, avoiding gruesome puddles of unidentifiable liquid on the way. One of the first things to catch the eye is a framed cross-stitched piece bearing the text ‘home sweet home’, and it is this juxtaposition of the domestic and ordinary against the profane and ludicrous which seems to characterise this play. Recurring references to Frosties for example (which are made even as guns are held to various characters’ heads) provide further levity to scenes already bordering on hysterical.

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Photo credit: Kenneth McHardy and Helen Jennings

It is easy to think this is a play about vengeance, family ties, and patriotism – but it is in fact a play about cats, and features a surprising number thereof. However, while cats pervade the play’s narrative and are the object of various characters’ obsessions, it is appropriately tragic that in almost all of these human-feline interactions the cat is in fact dead. It is in this spirit that the play opens, with Donny (Max Harrison) and Davey (Ed Paget) panicking about how to inform ‘Mad’ Padraic (Benedict Mulcare) that his beloved Wee Thomas is no more, having been – allegedly – brutally killed by Donny on his bike.

Throughout the play, these two characters provide highs of comic relief and lows of total despair. In their first few scenes, Donny and Davey get increasingly drunk as they attempt to cover up their crime, and their schemes become increasingly ridiculous and hilarious. Paget especially comes across very convincingly in his role as weary father to a mad terrorist, swaying drunkenly and waving his green cane. His foil is portrayed by Harrison with wonderful bewilderment, and every interaction between these two is a pleasure to watch. Interestingly, the set seemed geared to these two characters’ scenes more than anyone else’s, and perhaps this contributed to their success. Scenes with other characters might have benefitted from a more sparsely decorated space, such as one scene where almost the entire cast is present on stage, along with a generous handful of guns and more than a large helping of comic hysteria. However, it is hard to fault this aspect in a venue which puts so many constraints on its set designers.

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Photo credit: Kenneth McHardy and Helen Jennings

What appeared to be one of the least engaging scenes of the entire performance also turned into one of the best. While Donny and Davey hack quietly and ineptly at a body at the stage’s edge, Padraic’s sixteen-year-old girlfriend-in-arms Mairead (Helen Jennings) delivers a monologue which includes a blackly comic story about her mother persuading her to try her best not to ‘blow up any kids’. While initially comedically promising, the ensuing dialogue between Mairead and Padraic drags on a tad too long without character development or the bursts of humour that punctuate the rest of the play. However, when the focus shifts from these two characters (who proceed to engage in an impressively uncomfortable make-out session) to Donny and Davey (who are still attempting to dismember the corpse), the chemistry between the latter two characters becomes apparent. While these two converse, the disjunction between the action in the two populated parts of the stage makes, again, for brilliantly uncomfortable watching.

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Photo credits: Kenneth McHardy and Helen Jennings

Impressive supporting roles are provided by three members of the splinter group INLA: Christy (Connor Rowlett), Brendan (Louise Harris), and Joey (Thomas Grieg). A particularly well delivered line comes from Joey, who, while holding a gun to Padraic’s head, remarks that he has “always tried [to be ‘the sensitive one’]”. This line provides a wonderful distillation of the characters’ tendency to regard violence towards humans with wild abandon but violence towards cats with recoiling horror; a recurring theme that is utilised to fantastic comedic effect. A more interesting character development, which might have received more attention, was that of Mairead, who came across extremely well as pathetically childish in early scenes, later emerging as a commandeering leader.

This is a very satisfying production, and if you like your limbs detached, your guns plenteous, and your humour dark, it is undoubtedly worth the watch.

4/5 stars

The Lieutenant of Inishmore is on at the Corpus Playroom until Saturday 24th February. Tickets are £6-£8 Wed/Thu, and £6-£10 Fri/Sat.