When Martin McDonagh is at his best, he’s one of the greatest comic playwrights alive, and he’s at his best, unquestionably, with The Cripple of Inishmaan. Set in 1934 – decades earlier than most of McDonagh’s plays – Cripple finds filmmaker Robert Flaherty (whom we never see) arriving on the island of Inishmore to film his movie The Man of Aran. On the neighboring island of Inishmaan, where the entire play is set, crippled, orphaned Billy Claven (Daniel Radcliffe) longs to be in the film. And, in a series of hilarious reversals that are too good to give away, he actually gets his chance.
McDonagh joyfully skewers all the stereotypes about Ireland that were prevalent in the 1930s (and even today), that Flaherty’s heavily scripted “documentary” did little to change. Director Michael Grandage hits exactly the right notes of unsentimental affection, terse humor and brooding boredom, rendering McDonagh’s colorful picture of long-ago Inishmaan all too present and real.
Daniel Radcliffe may be a touch too inescapably handsome for this role, but he roughs up pretty well. It’s a physically demanding role, that requires you to move about with serious impairments of the arms and legs, and Radcliffe handles that masterfully. Add to that the sensitivity and nuance with which he renders all of Billy’s dreams and anxieties, and it may be his best stage work to date.
Other standout performers include the snappy Ingrid Craigie and Gillian Hanna as the dotty shopkeeping Osbourne Sisters who look after Billy, and the bouncy Pat Shortt as Johnnypateenmike, the town news conveyer (and gossip). Best of all, though, may be June Watson as Johnnypateenmike’s scabrous and unrepentantly alcoholic Mammy. It may be the show’s smallest role, but Watson dives into it like a big juicy peach.
Finally, in Inishmaan McDonagh offers a guardedly hopeful and redemptive vision for pathetic “feckers” and hardnosed bitches, and, really, isn’t that most of us?
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