The Cripple of Inishmaan

by Martin MacDonagh

Performed in the Unicorn Theatre 4 July - 7 July 2007

Abingdon Drama Club has repeated the success of The Beauty Queen of Leenane in 2004 with its latest production by Martin McDonagh, The Cripple of Inishmaan. McDonagh's work is deceptively accessible, but its comic banter imperceptibly drifts into savagely abusive exchanges, and its characters' thoughtless cruelty explodes into violence. The audience begins by laughing aloud (and there was plenty of laughter at the Unicorn) but McDonagh is quick to catch us out, swiftly turning the mood to tragedy, vicious aggression, or simple nastiness.

The eponymous hero, Cripple Billy, is played with quiet authority by Diarmaid Browne; he holds the whole play together. He is well supported by two other young actors, Harry McCarthy and Alex Codling, who, as his friends and tormentors Bartley and Slippy Helen, deride his disability with a series of unembarrassed jokes about his unattractiveness. Both actors bring energy, intensity and complete conviction to their roles.

Billy longs to leave the remote island of Inishmaan, and sees his chance when the American filmmaker Robert Flaherty comes to the neighbouring island of Inishmore to make his celebrated documentary Man of Aran. But leaving Ireland is, as always, both imperative and at the same time impossible, and everyone in a very strong cast - especially Billy's two "pretend aunties", played by Lin Beekar and Fiona Treacy - conspires to both drive him away and trap him into staying. And ADC production values - direction, lighting, even the programme notes - are all distinctly classy. This is excellent theatre.

Heather O'Donoghue - 5/7/07

This play, set on an Aran Island off the coast of Galway, is certainly worth a trip to the Unicorn Theatre before the run finishes on the 7th July. The play was a major success when it ran at the Royal National Theatre and the New York production sold out while still in rehearsals. Abingdon Drama Club has made a good choice of production and the casting is excellent. The first night was a full house.

The play is set in Inishmaan in 1934 and much of the action takes place in the village shop. The dialogue contains much lively repartee and Irish idiom (the programme helpfully including a glossary of some of the Irish words used). Cripple Billy is a young orphan who longs to break away from his life of teasing and his two slightly mad aunts who run the shop (the characters of which complement each other well). Diarmaid Browne played Billy well, with a natural Irish accent (though the accents of the other actors were also good). Browne portrayed the sadness and resignation inherent in Billy's essentially tragic role without mawkishness, offsetting it with courage and determination.

Billy's chance of escape comes when a Hollywood film crew arrives on the neighbouring island seeking actors. By a deception which has far reaching consequences, he persuades the local fisherman, tough Babbybobby, to row him across in the company of Helen, a sharp tongued local girl, and her somewhat telescope-obsessed brother Bartley (played by Harry McCarthy). To the islanders' surprise, Helen and Bartley return disappointed, but Billy is off to America for a screen test.

The set deserves a brief mention for its simple effectiveness in the somewhat spatially challenging Unicorn Theatre; the actors playing local characters Johnnypateenmike (the devious local gossip) and his drunken old Mammy do too as they provide much of the comedy of the production. The plot has many twists and turns (including a clever scene in an American lodging house) and the audience is kept guessing right to the ironic ending. This is one of the best performances by the Abingdon Drama Club I have seen and the audience certainly enjoyed the show.

Arthur - Daily Info - 05/07/07


Flare Path
Wed 4th - Sat 7th July
Unicorn Theatre


Flare Path
Tues 17th April
The Clubhouse