We laughed. We cried. We cringed. The Guild’s new production of The Cripple of Inishmaan is an intense two-hour immersion in the camaraderie and viciousness of small-town life.
The action centres on the general store in a bleak Irish village. If you changed the accents and hung a few hockey skates and hunting trophies by the woodstove, it could be any small northern town.
The screenplay, by London Irish legend Martin McDonagh, is punchy and the excellent Guild cast knows how to land the blows. One moment we are laughing out loud, until suddenly we’re not. You might have heard some Hollywood films described as “dark comedies,” but they are just grey laugh tracks compared to the emotional range of The Cripple of Inishmaan.
How many plays have you seen that have the audience doubled up in laughter, and then bring up themes involving orphans, family deceit, tuberculosis, suicide and the sexual appetites of priests? Or when moments of tenderness and reunion are followed by abrupt physical violence?
This is not the idyllic kind of Irish village you see in tourism ads.
The title character, called “Cripple Billy” to his face by the other villagers in pre-politically-correct Ireland, is played by Roy Neilson. Cooped up with his aunts (Bronwyn Jones and Mary Sloan), Billy struggles to endure the boredom, gossip and teasing that fill his life. Neilson plays Billy so convincingly that you can almost see him shrinking under the weight of his troubles.
When a Hollywood film crew comes to Ireland, Billy seizes his chance to escape along with tough girl Helen and her dim brother Bartley (Charlotte Courage and Graham Rudge). But, as much as Billy detests everyone in his village, they are also the only people who care for him. Billy has a lot to think about, including whether he will get the girl and whether tuberculosis will get him.
The Guild chose its play well. The Cripple of Inishmaan was a hit in London and New York, and has recently been restaged with Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame in the lead role. McDonagh is said to be the first playwright since Shakespeare to have four plays going simultaneously in London. Readers who work in government will be interested to hear that he worked at the U.K.‘s Department of Trade and Industry before quitting to write his plays.
One of the strengths of the Whitehorse production is how all nine characters hold their own on the stage. Mike Ivens plays the town gossip with verve, in turn entertaining and appalling us. Courage’s Helen is the Irish village girl that the boys are too scared to kiss. And Dorothy Martin plays the whiskey-sodden granny to great effect.
Another strength of the play is how director Brian Cochrane, who joins the Guild from Outside for this production, successfully choreographs the rapid-fire jokes, curses, calamities and occasional beatings that keep the piece moving briskly throughout.
The opening night crowd gave the cast a standing ovation when it was all over. We are fortunate to have an institution like the Guild in Whitehorse that puts on such fine productions. I heartily recommend The Cripple of Inishmaan.
Keep in mind, however, that the themes and content are not for everyone. But I guarantee that, if you go, you’ll be talking about The Cripple of Inishmaan for a long time.
The Cripple of Inishmaan plays at the Guild until Dec. 7. Tickets are available at Whitehorse Motors or at the door.