The Cripple of Inishmaan

by Martin McDonagh; dir Craig Shelton
Criterion Theatre, Earlsdon, Coventry
12 – 19 May 2012

On the surface, The Cripple of Inishmaan tells the story of young Cripple Billy and his doomed attempt to ‘make it’ in Hollywood. That would be an unfair summation of the play however: we only once leave the small village that Billy grew up in, most of the story is told through the other characters of the village, and the Hollywood story doesn’t matter very much at all. But we do empathise with Billy and his struggle to escape the forlorn pigeon-hole he has been placed in. In a scene just before his departure, he asks BabbyBobby to call him just Billy instead of Cripple Billy, much to the Bobby’s confusion.

The play has a certain similarity to Dylan Thomas’ ‘Under Milk Wood’ in that the richness comes from observation of the peculiar characters in the village and their interactions with each other. Most of this is done to great comic effect, although there is pain and tragedy there too – an addition that makes the people more real than a non-stop gag-fest would do. Martin McDonagh has written an excellent play here.

And it was presented and performed well too. The opening scene, with Kate (Debra Relton-Elves) and Eileen (Annie Gay) in their village shop delightfully set the tone and it would be a cold person indeed who did not find much to laugh at in that scene. Here we first hear of Billy’s habit of staring at cows – a recurring theme. Elliot Relton-Williams handled the part of Billy excellently, allowing us to feel and root for him in the way we must if the play is to be successful, and the consistency with which he played his crippled leg and arm is fantastic in one so young. Jon Elves also impressed as grim and ultimately violent Bobby and Peter Gillam as the doctor calmly maintained his serious demeanour despite such things as explaining to Billy that his mother was ugly enough to frighten a pig. For me though, the best of a good bunch were Pete Bagley as JohnnyPateen, the town gossip (or news reporter as he’d have it) and Annie Woodward as the mother he is trying to kill with drink (with her full cooperation) – and what a great pairing they made.

Not quite as polished as it could be though; despite a mostly good performance as young Bartley, with his fascination for telescopes and sweets, Sam Taylor seemed to have concentrated on getting the Irish accent right at the expense of his diction. As such, the second scene was very difficult to understand and took some wind out of the sails – it didn’t help that much of the conversation was about sweets with unfamiliar names. Lucy Hayton as his egg-throwing sister had similarly problems at times. This improved as time went on and either they relaxed more or we became more acclimatised – or because sweets didn’t feature as much.

Overall an excellent night out.

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