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Black humour, black cats and a blood red finale

The Lieutenant of Inishmore

Gaiety Theatre, Dublin 

Until March 14


First-class: Paul Mescal and Alex Murphy (below) in The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Photo by Patrick Redmond

First-class: Paul Mescal and Alex Murphy (below) in The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Photo by Patrick Redmond

First-class: Paul Mescal and Alex Murphy (below) in The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Photo by Patrick Redmond

Playwright Martin McDonagh has always been fearless. This blood-soaked play, first produced in 2001 by the Royal Shakespeare Company, marked a move into more obviously political territory. The petty barbarism in his earlier work was on a domestic or social scale. Here McDonagh takes aim at the subject of violent paramilitarism. The play was written in the 1990s, when Irish paramilitary violence was a major issue with frequent and tragic outcomes. As McDonagh's content got more serious, his dramatic mode got more cartoonish.

Padraic, a man deemed too mad for the IRA, has joined a splinter group of the INLA. Set in 1993, we first meet him whilst he is torturing a drug dealer, strung upside down, at the Free Derry gable wall. Padraic learns that his cat Wee Thomas is ill, and heads back west to his home in Inishmore to look after him. But the cat is in fact dead, has had its brains beaten out, and Padraic already psychopathic, goes into overdrive.

Gaiety Productions has assembled a first-rate cast. Alex Murphy as Davey is a treat, bringing depth to this youngster who could easily be played as a pure gomme.

Don Wycherley has ­perfect comic timing as Padraic's father Donny; Paul Mescal is half ­matinee idol, half psychopath, which feels just right as Padraic. Aisling Kearns does a brilliant job as gun-toting 16-year-old IRA enthusiast, Mairead. A terrific character, she is pure stroppy and anti-feminine. Andrew Flynn's direction is full of subtlety, which may feel like an oxymoron when it comes to directing McDonagh: but he manages to locate softer undercurrents, especially from Davey, with his long hair and his pink bicycle, and his general sense of yearning.

Designer Owen Mac Carthaigh creates a dynamic sloping road with drystone walls, as well as an uber-trad cottage interior. A luminous cliff, sea and sky backdrop by scenic artist Ger Sweeney reminds us of the beauty of the Aran Islands landscape. Special mention goes to prop-maker Matthew Guinnane for his magnificent array of dead cats and body parts.

"So all this terror has been for absolutely nothing?" asks Davey late in the play. That line has a particular resonance now, after the guns in Northern Ireland have quietened. McDonagh's scabrous humour can, at first, feel like it swamps his political vision. But part of his politics is the wisdom to know that as a dramatist, his first duty is to engage and engross. Nobody wants to listen to a bore. And if that means some cat splattering and challenging jokes, well the end more than justifies the means.


Playing with restorative justice

Restoration Project Arts Centre, Dublin Until tonight

Shaun Dunne's new play explores and explains the function of restorative justice; it attempts to recreate in dramatic form the experience of a facilitator, Leanne (Kate Stanley Brennan) organising a mediated conversation between Paul (Callan Cummins), a youth services client, and Dean (John Cronin), a staff member he has attacked. Dean's job is vulnerable in the most recent round of cutbacks at the centre; the play has the ambitious desire to make drama from the everyday.

But the shape is too schematic, ­relying heavily on the restorative ­justice session to provide confrontation.

Only Dean, played with a flinty edge by Cronin, has any real dramatic depth. In portraying everyday life, the playwright has got bogged down in the quotidian, and the writing never takes off. It is described as a sister-work to The Waste Ground Party, which played at the Peacock a number of years ago, but it shows little of the other play's dramatic complexity.

Darren Thornton finds no solutions in his direction. Sarah Jane Shiels gamely tries to inject some drama with fizzy lighting events and excellent mood creation, but although restorative justice may play a valuable role in real life; for it to play well on stage, a more artful transformation is required.

Indo Review