Radcliffe shines as disabled Irish outsider in The Cripple of Inishmaan

by McDONAGH, , Writer - Martin McDonagh, Director - Michael Grand

THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN by McDONAGH, , Writer - Martin McDonagh, Director - Michael Grandage, Designer - Christopher Oram, Lighting- Paule Constable, Michael Grandage Company, Noel Coward Theatre, 2013, Credit: Johan Persson - Credit: Archant

The Cripple of Inishmaan

Noel Coward Theatre


Daniel Radcliffe continues to prove that there is life after Harry Potter with a fine performance as the orphaned and disabled Billy in this impressive revival of Martin McDonagh’s black comedy – first seen at the National Theatre.

With his withered arm and twisted leg, outsider Billy is the butt of cruel and relentless jokes. When he complains: “You shouldn’t laugh at other people’s misfortunes”, he gets the reply: “Why not? It’s awfully funny” – an exchange that captures the spirit of the play. As ever with McDonagh’s writing, political correctness is joyously kicked into touch.

The action takes place in 1934, the year Hollywood came to the Aran Isles and US documentary maker Robert Flaherty made his famous – if not entirely truthful – film about life on the islands.

This real event is the trigger for the residents on Inishmaan to dream of a new life in America.

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The news is broken by Johnnypateenmike, a man who barters food for village gossip, while trying to kill his ancient mother with drink.

First to catch Hollywood fever is village tearaway Helen, a feisty girl who likes to pelt people with eggs and recite the fearsome punishments she visits upon lecherous priests.

Poor never-been-kissed Billy is in love with Helen but, since his adoptive aunts consider it more likely that he’ll get his first kiss from a goat, he has every reason to dream of a Hollywood escape. Similarly, storytelling and the release it offers is central to all their lives.

The plot plays fast and loose with the audience in answering whether Billy succeeds. At points, it feels manipulative.

The question of whether Billy’s parents drowned attempting to abandon or protect him is kept open until the end.

A revolving set designed by Christopher Oram keeps the action moving. But the real achievement of Michael Grandage’s production is in the ensemble of surrounding characters. Sarah Greene is superb as the fearsome Helen.

Gillian Hanna and Ingrid Craigie are a lively double act as the adoptive aunts and Pat Shortt almost steals the show as the pompous Johnnypateenmike.

For some, the play may be too knowing, a pastiche of Irish drama that mocks sentimentality, then indulges it. But the production – and Radcliffe’s tender performance – make for vigorous and touching entertainment.

Until August 31.

Caroline David