Review by Peter Brown
14 June 2013
Famous for his portrayal of the boy wizard in the Harry Potter films, Daniel Radcliffe is the big draw in this revival of Martin McDonagh's play. The fans and admirers waiting outside the stage door after the final curtain certainly testify to Mr Radcliffe's enduring and continuing popularity, and he certainly doesn't let them down in the acting department here. But this play has much more to offer than the pulling-power of a celebrity in the lead – it is a brilliantly-written comedy with very funny and endearing characters.
Set in 1934, this is a play about a small community living (or perhaps surviving might be a better term) on an island just off the coast of Ireland. Most of the action centres around a local shop (probably the only shop on the island) owned by two sisters, Kate and Eileen, the 'pretend' aunties of Cripple Billy (played by Daniel Radcliffe). That might not be the politically correct, or socially correct, or even the kindest name to give a handicapped young man, but that is what everyone calls him, even his kindly pretend aunties. When he voices an opinion on the matter of his name, Cripple Billy says he just wants to be called 'Billy', and who can blame him?
The island is populated with obsessives. Or, rather, people with obsessive behaviour, or just odd behaviour. Maybe that comes with living on an island where there is obviously not very much to do. Cripple Billy is famed among the islanders for staring at cows. Johhnypateenmike (yes, that really is his name) is obsessed with the news, and goes round everyone's house or calls in at the shop with several snippets of local info to barter for eggs, or one of the many cans of peas the shop stocks. Another of his obsessions involves trying to despatch his mother to a better land by dosing her with enormous quantities of alcohol; but she seems to thrive on it. The fiery Helen McCormick is a young woman with a shock of red hair and a shocking temper to match. She is obsessed with smashing eggs on the heads of unsuspecting males, including her brother Bartley who is obsessed with sweeties and telescopes. And Cripple Billy's pretend auntie Eileen has a penchant for talking to stones when she is stressed, usually when she is worried about Cripple Billy. As you might have already gathered, this is a play where character largely take precedence over storyline. The main thread of the plot revolves around a film which is being shot on a nearby island, and which Cripple Billy sees as his way out of the dismal routine of island life.
Apart from a poignant scene with Billy in America, and another rather brutal one where he has to face the music when he admits to lying to boatman Babbybobby (yes, that is his real name too!), the laughs come thick and fast, and right from the beginning of the very first scene. It is the kind of humour which really is irresistibly infectious and very, very funny.
Daniel Radcliffe proves highly convincing in two distinct ways. First, he ably describes a young man whose mobility is constrained by physical disabilities. Additionally, he gives us a Billy who, in every other respect, is an ordinary young man with the aspirations and needs of others of his age. Though Mr Radcliffe deservedly wins our sympathy, he certainly doesn't get all our attention given the array of extraordinary characters. There are uniformly excellent and distinctive performances from all the cast, but I particularly enjoyed Ingrid Craigie and Gillian Hanna as Billy's aunties, June Watson as Johnnypateenmike's alcoholic mother, and Sarah Greene's irascible and violently cantankerous Helen.
Part of the Michael Grandage Company season, 'The Cripple of Inishmaan' premièred back in 1996 at the National and hasn't been back in the West End since. So best catch it while you can because it is a deliciously droll comedy and enormously entertaining.
What the popular press had to say...
"Daniel Radcliffe...fine performance in the title role...The piece is theatrically effective, outstandingly acted and often disgracefully funny... I just wish the play itself wasn’t such a thoroughly nasty piece of work. "
Charles Spencer for The Daily Telegraph
"Michael Grandage's highly adroit revival of this dark, politically incorrect 1997 comedy by Martin McDonagh...Grandage's assured production skilfully disguises the predictable unpredictability of the plot twists...But, for my taste, McDonagh's play wants too much to have its soda bread and eat it. "
Paul Taylor for The Independent
"While Radcliffe is the production’s big draw, there’s a strong sense of ensemble in Michael Grandage's polished revival of Martin McDonagh’s mid-Nineties play. "
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard
"It's a knowing play but one which [Daniel] Radcliffe invests with a sense of real feeling. With his twisted left arm and inflexible left leg, he suggests Billy's disability without overstating it. Radcliffe also has the precious gift, vital in a play full of narrative surprises, of seeming artful and vulnerable at the same time."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
External links to full reviews from popular press
Telegraph - Independent - Guardian