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  • Chris ORourke

The Cripple of Inishmaan

The Cripple of Inishmaan, Gaiety Theatre, photo Pat Redmond.


Island Life

The craic is ninety on the isle of Inishmaan where a young, orphaned cripple dreams of escaping his island life and its community. A community steeped in a distrust of books, thinking and staring at cows. Hearing of a movie being made on the neighbouring island of Inishmore, cripple Billy Claven, along with frenemy siblings Slippy Helen McCormick and her gormless brother Bartley, plot to travel the high seas so they can be discovered by the film’s director, who'll then ensure they're whisked away to Hollywood. From stone mad spinsters to egg pegging cailíns, Gaiety Productions delightful presentation of Martin McDonagh’s “The Cripple of Inishmaan” delivers boat loads of laughs, and a fair degree of pathos, in this dark, delicious take on McDonagh’s classic. One in which old ways and old secrets collide with new worlds and new possibilities.

Set in 1934 as the legendary docudrama Man of Aran was being made on Inishmore, “The Cripple of Inishmaan” seems to exploit as much as explore the mythologising of the west of Ireland. Indeed, at times it seems as if McDonagh is trying to play both ends against the middle, portraying romanticised Ireland almost as much as he probes it. As if striving for the best of both worlds, walking a tightrope between sentiment and sentimentality. Something McDonagh does remarkably well. For, like a warm-hearted Whiskey Galore, or Local Hero, “The Cripple of Inishmaan” appears to poke fun at the foibles and wild eccentricities of the islanders. But it’s all in the spirit of ‘if we make fun of ye it’s only because we love ye.’ And there's a lot of love for the islands here. The result is a sometimes awkward, but ultimately successful balancing act. One in which the musicality of McDonagh language is wonderfully laced with comic gold. Throughout, language and construction are laid out like a musical score, with motifs, phrases and purposeful repetitions being visible to the human eye from some distance away.

Catherine Walsh & Norma Sheahan in The Cripple of Inishmaan, Gaiety Theatre, photo Pat Redmond

Director Andrew Flynn does a sterling job marshalling his creative team to mine “The Cripple of Inishmaan” for all its rich comic humour. Along with its considerable amount of pathos. Yet Flynn wisely ensures he foregrounds the former while sparingly, for the most part, distributing the latter. Usually just enough so that it adds seasoning, enriching comic flavours without drowning them out. Sinead Cuthbert’s superb costumes and Ciaran Bagnall’s evocative light design contribute much to establishing the feel of the piece. But it’s Owen MacCarthaigh’s jaw dropping set which proves to be the jewel in this impressive production’s crown. A brooding interplay of dark and light, juxtaposing warm interiors with stark exteriors, MacCarthaigh’s landscape, featuring superb rock sculptures by scenic artists Ger Sweeney, is a masterclass in the salient detail. From smoke rising from the chimney, to a scene stealing seagull courtesy of prop maker Matt Guinnane, MacCarthaigh ensures this handsome production appears sumptuously eye catching throughout.

Phelim Drew & Sean Fox in The Cripple of Inishmaan, Gaiety Theatre, photo Pat Redmond.

As is often the case with McDonagh, his comedically rich characters, some bordering on caricature, prove to be the lifeblood of the work, with flawed, local heroes surfacing in the unlikeliest of places. Characters superbly realised by an impressive cast that includes some up and coming talent. Ian O’Reilly as the petty sweet connoisseur Bartley McCormick gives a superb performance, as does an impressive Sean Fox as the hard man with a heart, Babbybobby Bennett. Catherine Walsh and Norma Sheahan as the Osborne sisters, Kate and Eileen respectively, prove to be hugely engaging as the island’s store owners around whom everything revolves. Where a stupendously enjoyable Phelim Drew as Johnnypateenmike conveys the news of the world in exchange for provisions before encouraging his dying mother to drink herself to death. Joyously captured by a superb Rosaleen Linehan. Like John Olohan's delightful Doctor McSharry, Linehan doesn’t have all that much to do, but what she does she does to perfection. Ruairí Heading as Cripple Billy Claven also proves impressive, ensuring Billy’s moping doesn’t become so pathetic as to be utterly unbearable, showing enough backbone when the sparks fly with Jamie Lee O’Donnell’s impressive Slippy Helen McCormick to make their mismatched battle believable. No mean feat ensuring Heading’s lovelorn Tiny Tim looks credible going up against O’Donnell’s feistier, uncensored Mary Kate Danaher style fierceness. Thankfully both Heading and O’Donnell have the chemistry, and the talent, to pull it off.

Phelim Drew & Rosaleen Linehan in The Cripple of Inishmaan, Gaiety Theatre, pic Pat Redmond

In “The Cripple of Inishmaan” Martin McDonagh’s characters dreaming of Hollywood nights far from Inishmaan days have rightfully earned it praiseworthy comparison to Synge’s Playboy of the Western World and director Robert J. Flaherty's Man of Aran. For like Synge’s classic and Flaherty’s early cinematic masterpiece, “The Cripple of Inishmaan” is a love letter to a time, a place, and a people. Rich in laughter and handsomely staged, “The Cripple of Inishmaan” sees its cracking cast delivering a top class production. One that more than does justice to this contemporary classic.

“The Cripple of Inishmaan” by Martin McDonagh, presented by Gaiety Productions, runs at The Gaiety Theatre until March 9.

For more information, visit The Gaiety Theatre.

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