first night

The Lieutenant of Inishmore

Leo Mylonadis gets a fix of dark comedy before the start of exams


Few plays are more violent and unapologetically crude than The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Torture, terrorism, animal cruelty and an unending stream of curse words might appear at first glance to necessitate a colourful, dramatic and in-yer-face night at the theatre. It is important to remember however that violence, volume and vulgarity alone do not make for an effective or convincing story. With the roots of the play heavily planted in farce, the success of Martin McDonaugh’s infamous piece requires a strong understanding of comedy, the sensitive implementation of subtlety and believable characters lost in an outrageous world. Unfortunately, Bailey Theatre Company’s latest production did not possess enough of each of these elements to elicit neither laughs nor provoke serious discussion about terrorism and violence, as Nikhil Vyas’ Director’s Note describes.


The black comedy follows Padraic (Tyler Rainford), a psychotic lieutenant of the INLA, the Irish National Liberation Army, as he finds out his beloved cat, Wee Thomas, is poorly. He travels back home to the island of Inishmore where he discovers the truth about Wee Thomas and seeks to avenge his feline friend. The farcical script is generously peppered with acts of violence and swearing as well as a great deal of comic opportunities whose potential was either not fulfilled or entirely missed by large number of the cast and creatives. It has the potential to be a horrendously hilarious play but last night’s performance unfortunately elicit very few laughs from the small audience gathered at the Assembly Rooms at this pre-exams time.


This is not to say that anything was overtly bad about the show: several of the cast’s performances stood out as relatively well-structured characters in an otherwise chaotic universe. The girls, played by Eliza Cummings-Cove, Corinna Harrison and Izzie Price, were much more likely to vary their tone and add depth to their characters, especially with Cummings-Cove’s defiant banter with Brendan (Kaelan Bhate) and Harrison’s Christy. It cannot be said that the cast lacked in energy, but I do believe a controlled application of that energy into moments when the characters required it most would have had a much greater effect. An audience can put up with booming screams and shouts in a variety of (mostly good!) Irish accents for only so long before the pace of the play is distorted, and any engagement with the characters on a believable level is lost.


The play’s violent nature also of course demands an impressive production value which was unfortunately not the case with this particular production. It may be unfair to criticise a student production’s inability to blow me away with its effects, but considering so much of McDonaugh’s Tarantino-esque style and shock value is based in his gore, it was a shame to not see the violence limited to small blood packets. While producers Lizzie Reavley and Yannick Withoos’ strong effort to delicately construct a quaint-looking living room (complete with an adorable portrait of Rainford and guest star Percy Masson Song) the tension built up by the cast’s screams and hectic energy was lost when gunshots were limited to soft light flashes and sound effects.


It might be argued that a ridiculous play requires absurd performances, but I would strongly disagree when it concerns farce, especially in the case of such a violent one. Like with any play, an audience needs to be able to understand the human characters present in the outrageous world, at least every so often, in order to appreciate the strangeness of the events. With a slightly more measured and insightful approach, and with greater production value (not necessarily unavailable in student theatre) BTC’s latest production could have made for a masterpiece of dark comedy. 

8 May 2015

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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