by Martin McDonagh.
Royal Court (Jerwood Theatre Downstairs) Sloane Square SW1W 8AS To 10 October 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 10 Oct 2.30m (+ Touch Tour 1pm).
Captioned 7 Oct.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7565 5000.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 25 September.
Comedy; menace; shades of Harold Pinter don’t detract from the unique McDonagh tone.
Martin McDonagh and Mattthew Dunster, writer and director here, are two of British theatre’s most visceral artists, shock and surprises their stock-in-trade. McDonagh particularly is adept at making horror catapult laughter straight in audience faces.
Having repeatedly skewered Irish dramatic traditions, here he looks back at mid-sixties England, a land which, historically enough, has the feel of the late-fifties. Mainly set in a pub in 1965 Oldham, with references to Burnley and the Lancashire coastal town Formby, the background’s less the upbeat Merseyside world of the Beatles than the Manchester of child abductions by the pair who became known as the Moors Murderers.
McDonagh shows final days of deference to the law’s authority, its executioners, in the literal sense, in their last days. Harry Wade is co-executioner with the famous Albert Pierrepoint. He’s also an Oldham publican, laying down the law to regulars and family alike.
David Morrissey is a fine, upstanding loudmouth, his certainties a veneer to vanity, Harry’s firm actions conceal misjudgements from the 1963 prologue, where fear and hilarity mix in a condemned cell. Designer Anna Fleischle makes this as institutionally dreary as Harry’s pub is faded and dull-coloured, giving onto a perpetually foggy, dark and vaguely perceived street.
Confident as he sounds, Harry is weakened more ways than one by vanity. He may have the police in his pocket (and his pub), for the law’s agents are generally corrupt here, but a local journalist winkles-out information, while a mysterious southern visitor seems to bring retribution, using Harry’s disconsolately anti-social daughter as his instrument.
Further retribution arrives thundering at his door when Harry’s fellow-executioner arrives to settle a few matters, while failing to notice the truth hanging behind a curtain as execution turns to lynching.
The slow-moving plot, predictable and surprising by turns, contrasts gradual horrific developments and the swiftness of the laughter McDonagh surprises from them, building a powerfully individual picture of an unthinking male-dominated society. Only Sally Rogers’ Alice, caught between her husband’s bombast and the calculated threat of Johnny Flynn’s southern interloper, with his rival, if contrasting, outspokenness to Harry’s, shows genuine human concern.
Hennessy: Josef Davies.
Clegg: James Dryden.
Mooney: Johnny Flynn.
Bill: Graeme Hawley.
Albert: John Hodgkinson.
Inspector Fry: Ralph Ineson.
Shirley: Bronwyn James.
Harry: David Morrissey.
Charlie: Ryan Pope.
Alice: Sally Rogers.
Arthur: Simon Rouse.
Syd: Reece Shearsmith.
Director: Matthew Dunster.
Designer: Ana Fleischle.
Lighting: Joshua Carr.
Sound: Ian Dickinson.
Video: Duncan McLean.
Dialect coach: Zabarjad Salam.
Fight director: Kate Waters.
Assistant director: Roy Alexander