The Lieutenant of Inishmore - Noel Coward Theatre
Now this is what a good theatrical comedy should be like – a serious message but with hilarity, even absurdity. The elephant in the room with regards to The Lieutenant of Inishmore seems to be the backdrop: it’s 1993, and IRA bombs are still going off in London. The show itself is set over in Ireland, and centres on Padraic (Aidan Turner: why is it that people off the telly aren’t as tall in real life as one anticipates they would be?), a man so violent the IRA didn’t want him in their ranks because he was considered too extreme. But the play highlights the stupidity, vacuity and superfluity of a lot of terrorism out there.
The nature of terrorism may have changed, and online attacks may be more of a threat now that guns and knives. There are still bombs, as a 2017 incident at Manchester Arena demonstrated, but at least the IRA used to phone up beforehand and say there was a bomb about to go off in a certain location. Anyway, the production uses a copious amount of fake blood in what becomes ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ (and thus a life for a life). So, what’s with all the guffawing in the stalls (and, as far as I could deduce, the circle)?
Well, a cat, Wee Thomas, has been Padraic’s only (and therefore best) friend for fifteen years, but now he has become part of a splinter group, he’s traversing Ireland, particularly Northern Ireland, with a view to making it part of the Republic. So Wee Thomas is being looked after by his father Donny (Denis Conway) – but there’s a problem, which is a bit too much of a spoiler to state specifically. But it means Padraic interrupts his torturing of James (Brian Martin), yet another one of his many victims, and drops everything to return to Inishmore and see to Wee Thomas.
Cue panic, because all is not well with Wee Thomas (again, without giving too much away, if everything were, Padraic would simply carry on torturing whoever he believes to be unionists). It is Padraic’s melodramatic reaction that elicits laughter, not because people shouldn’t care for their pets (of course they should), but because it’s clearly the terrorist’s (very) soft spot, which James gloriously exploits, winning his freedom in the process. Here is the Big Man who terrifies as well as terrorises, slumped and reduced to tears because his father has phoned him to report a problem with his pet cat.
All is well with Wee Thomas in the end (though other cats are not so lucky). Thanks to Padraic jumping to conclusions, and some panicky actions on the part of Donny and young Davey (Chris Walley), it gets rather anarchic. Add to the mix Mairead (Charlie Murphy, whose diction meant I couldn’t fully understand what the character was saying, though much of it sounded aggressive), Davey’s sister, who is in love with Padraic, and successfully woos him. Christy (Will Irvine), leader of the splinter group that Padraic wishes to breakaway from, thus forming a splinter group from a splinter group, isn’t happy at Padraic’s actions. It all comes to blows, in more ways than one.
The strength of the production is in both the comic timing and the script itself. Lines need not be complicated to be both amusing and profound: for instance, Davey’s “Oh, will it never end? Will it never fecking end?” proves a great response to the sheer insanity of the final scenes. There may have been moments when certain fellow theatregoers were questioning whether they should be laughing at what goes on, but there’s no denying the brilliance of this delightful production.