The Cripple of Inishmaan

The Cripple of Inishmaan – Noel Coward Theatre, until 31 August (some tickets available)

It is the website that gives it away. Alight on Michael Grandage Company and it is all too clear that this play is less about the ‘Company’ and very much about a certain Daniel Radcliffe. This is not in itself a criticism of Michael Grandage or Daniel Radcliffe. One must swallow the bitter pill of realism when it comes to the financial dynamics of the West End, which is, if you want to stage a play like The Cripple of Inishmaan for 12 weeks in one of the larger theatres of the West End then you must have an ace up your sleeve to get the audiences in.

Daniel Radcliffe is quite an ace, and paired with Martin McDonagh – notably of In Brugges and, rather less notably, Seven Psychopaths fame – the evening is set for quite a potent mix. The problem is that at times it feels that Michael Grandage has been so keen to find an edgy, modern play to entice a young actor looking to mould his career that he has failed to notice that he has chosen one of McDonagh’s weakest plays.

In Brugges had some incredibly dark scenes but was leavened by its acute sense of place and the fish-out-of-water verbal sparring of its two leads. The Lieutenant of Inishmore looks for black comedy and manages to eventually locate it in something the colour of pitch; a breathtakingly offensive yet hilarious play about the troubles of an Irish torturer considered too mad for the IRA.

McDonagh’s first play – The Beauty Queen of Leeane – won four Tony Awards and has a plot that marvellously manages to deceive its audience at every turn. It is rightly revered as a near-classic and a stunning achievement from the then-25 year old. Unfortunately the Young Vic revived it in a celebrated production less than two years ago and there are certainly no Radcliffe-shaped parts in it.

Daniel Radcliffe - STAR (not pictured: other actors)

The Cripple of Inishmaan is not a bad play and it follows McDonagh’s other plays in exploring an Ireland that seems to exist out of time. Eventually it can be placed temporally in the mid-1930’s but realistically it could be anytime from 1780 to 1980. On these rural islands the sense is that life continues much as it has always done; roles are fixed and nicknames determine character rather than other way. The arrival of the film crew on a nearby island is the jolt that throws the island off its axis – it acts as the classic outsider who engenders change on the local and drives the actions of the play.

Daniel Radcliffe plays Cripplebilly – a young man cursed with a limp and a name that he cannot shake. He sees the arrival of a film crew as his chance off the island and Hollywood as a place where his disability can be, if not accepted, at least overlooked.

It is another undeniably smart decision in the post-Potter career for Radcliffe. He deserves a great deal of credit for tackling Equus – a difficult play and a difficult part – and so far he has broadly eschewed the Hollywood-fodder that would seem so tempting. The lead in a reasonably intelligent version of The Women In Black and acting alongside Jon Hamm in ‘A Young Doctor’s Notebook’ on Sky Arts are the only real mainstream exposure he has received in a post-Potter universe. If the adaptation of Bulgakov’s short stories was a bit of a mixed bag it still represents a remarkably leftfield step for someone with the choice of pretty much any script.

The issue in for Radcliffe is about whether he can convert that undeniable enthusiasm and desire for range into something tangible. If he is not entirely successful in The Cripple of Inishmaan the fault only partly lies with him. This play has been promoted across London as something akin to a one-man show.

You would be hard pressed to find photos of any of the other actors but the play itself is an ensemble piece. Cripplebilly is not in the play for long periods and much of the plot is driven through his absence. However there is a weight of expectation every time Radcliffe is on stage and because of the limp, because of the accent, it is often painfully clear that he is acting whist everyone around feels natural in this environment.

There is little wrong with his performance apart from a few slightly overcooked accented lines of dialogue but it does stand apart from the rest of the cast, for whom Irish appears to be their natural language –in some cases the brogue is so heavy it is actually quite difficult to understand. One feels that if Radcliffe was allowed to exist on equal footing then it would be a solid performance.

However Radcliffe more than most must appreciate that he has been marked as something special, and that this won’t now change; one of the reasons no doubt for his very deliberate career choices to date.

Whilst the Cripple of Inishmaan is in no way the turgid misfire of Peter and Alice there is still some work to do on the pacing; it clocks in at around 2½ hours which is far too long for a comedy. The play also suffers from an uneven structure that sees the plot hanging for much of the second half before succumbing to a very quick resolution, and where revelations are given to little time to have a real dramatic impact.

If you can still pick up £10 tickets then it is more than worth a watch but if you were vacillating over the £87 (yes, £87) premium tickets then it might be worth keeping an eye on the reviews for Sam Mendes’ directed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which is picking quite a buzz of its previews at Drury Lane.

**Please note that this is a review of a preview performance of The Cripple of Inishmaan’**

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