Martin McDonagh

Crippling laughter awaits in Inishmaan stage treat

Much has happened to Martin McDonagh since he wrote The Cripple Of Inishmaan back in 1996.

He’s now an Oscar and Golden Globe winning writer and director, deploying his sledgehammer humour on the big screen, most notably in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Sydney audiences have a chance to revisit the Cripple Of Inishmaan with a fine production of the play at the Old Fitz Theatre in Woolloomooloo.

The cripple of the title is Billy, an orphan who lives in the care of his adoptive spinster aunts. He, like everyone else in Inishmaan, is bored and dreams of a better life elsewhere, anywhere.

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The arrival of a Hollywood crew to shoot Robert Flaherty’s Man Of Aran creates an exit strategy for Billy but will he get away or will his plan be derailed by secrets and lies?

McDonagh unflinchingly holds a satirical mirror up to rural Irish life, its preoccupations, obsessions and insecurities. There are dark secrets and benevolent lies, family betrayals and belligerent blackmail, vengence and violence and eggs, lots of eggs.

Laurence Coy as Johnnypateenmike and Jude Gibson as his mother in The Cripple Of Inishmaan. Picture: Marnya Rothe

Laurence Coy as Johnnypateenmike and Jude Gibson as his mother in The Cripple Of Inishmaan. Picture: Marnya Rothe

The characters are cartoonish versions of people we instantly recognise and McDonagh, who spent his youthful Summer holidays in the west of Ireland, skillfully captures the cadence and musicality of the vernacular he would have tuned into as a young man.

He also challenges myths surround Ireland and Irish people. Are we friendly? Or simply nosy?

The result is painfully hilarious, poignant and profound. It may be that Billy is the least crippled member of the Inishmaan community.

The Mad March Hare Theatre Company’s production is faithful to the spirit of the dark humour and almost all the actors comfortably inhabit their characters and embrace the terrible beauty of the script.

William Rees, a young actor who lives with a disability, is impressively compelling as Billy.

Laurence Coy is a standout as the scheming village gossip Johnnypateenmike and Jude Gibson is outstanding as his alcoholic, bed-ridden mother.

A cleverly adaptable set, which makes the most of the limited space at the Old Fitz, is put to good use. A shop counter becomes a currach which becomes a bed.

Director Claudia Barrie’s attention to detail is impressive and she is well supported by lighting director Benjamin Brockman and production designer Brianna Russell.

While some of the Irish accents are a little sketchy, it would be churlish to say that this slight shortcoming takes away from what is a very enjoyable night of theatre.

FOUR STARS

Rebel Wilson to star in Beauty Queen Of Leenane

Rebel Wilson is a big fan of Martin McDonagh’s work.

Rebel Wilson is a big fan of Martin McDonagh’s work.

Rebel Wilson (Pitch Perfect, Bridesmaids) will play the female lead in Martin McDonagh’s Beauty Queen Of Leenane for the Sydney Theatre Company next year.

The star of movies like Pitch Perfect, Bridesmaids returns to the Sydney stage in the ink-black modern classic by Academy Award-winning writer McDonagh who wrote and directed Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Wilson’s appearance in this Sydney Theatre Company production is sure to generate plenty of interest when it premieres next November.

The play is part of McDonagh's Leenane Trilogy alongside A Skull In Connemara and The Lonesome West.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane is one of my favourite plays,” Wilson said.

“It’s a fascinating look at a complicated relationship between a mother and daughter, written by my favourite playwright, Martin McDonagh. He writes such dark and comedic characters – I've always been drawn to his work.

“I am really excited to come back to STC to be in this play. The Beauty Queen of Leenane was the first professional play that I ever saw and I saw it at STC when I was 19 years old. I was just blown away by how talented the actors were and how great the play was. Then I performed in that same theatre a few months later in my first proper play, Spurboard, for ATYP and STC Education. So, to me, the play holds a lot of significance – I hope I can do it justice."

Set in a small Connemara town, Maureen Folan lives a lonely existence with Mag, her aged mother. Their relationship is more arm wrestle than warm embrace. Right now, when Maureen stands the chance of having her first romantic relationship, Mag’s cantankerous presence is simply unbearable.

This play was the first big hit for McDonagh, whose films also include the hugely popular In Bruges.

Rebel Wilson said she is excited by her return to live theatre.

“There’s something very special and very magical about seeing theatre. I can’t get enough of going. I love that it’s an immediate experience. The cool thing is that every theatrical performance is different and it depends on the audience and the energy in the room. Just those people there share that one, live, personal experience. You can’t get that from a movie or a TV show, it’s such a particular experience. That’s why, despite all the technological advances in entertainment, people still go to the theatre – and have for hundreds of years. You just can’t beat the shared experience of theatre.”

The play is part of the Sydney Theatre Company's 2019 Program.