The latest offering from the star-studded Michael Grandage season, The Cripple of Inishmaan gives its eager audience a bizarre mix of Harry Potter, J M Synge and Father Ted.
Written by In Bruges creator Martin McDonagh, black comedy The Cripple... is the story of a disabled teenager, Billy Claven, who’s desperate to escape his dreary existence on the isle of Inishmaan. When local gossip JohnnyPateenMike (the excellent Pat Shortt) arrives with news of a Hollywood documentary being made on a nearby island, Billy sees his chance to escape.
With its relentless, repetitive lilting Oirish talk (bearded women, bald donkeys, dogs’ arseholes and horse farts) McDonagh’s 1996 play flows through very similar territory as J M Sygne’s comedy The Playboy of the Western World from 1907. There’s the same mix of doolally villagers (an aunt who talks to stones; a sassy young girl with a penchant for throwing eggs; a local gossip attempting to kill his elderly mother with drink); the same twists and turns of fortune; the same conflict between story-telling and truth.
Despite this being an ensemble piece, most of the punters are surely there to see the boy from the Harry Potter films. Complete with twisted legs and a withered arm, Daniel Radcliffe’s orphaned Cripple Billy provides the target of much of the pitch-black, politically incorrect jibes of the play, “as mangled and fecked as you are”. Gifted at playing outsiders, Radcliffe skillfully combines the wiliness and vulnerability of Billy; he may fall physically short of his fellow villagers, but his intelligence and compassion clearly run frustratingly far ahead.
For all its we-really-shouldn’t laughs, and sparky, near-Beckettian double acts (JohnnyPateenMike and his boozy mammy; Ingrid Craigie and Gillian Hanna as the fussy old aunts; Sarah Greene and Conor MacNeill as the potty-mouthed Helen and her sweet-toothed brother), eventually, the parody of remote island life wears thin. We can’t help thinking this is a mediocre play slightly elevated by a strong cast within a starry season.
The Cripple of Inishmaan plays until 31 August at the Noel Coward Theatre, 85 St. Martin’s Lane, London, WC2N 4AU. Most tickets are sold out, but you can queue and get £10 tickets on the day. Londonist saw the show on a complimetary review ticket. Visit michaelgrandagecompany.com to find out more.