Pander 8 (July 1999)
The Cripple of Inishmaan, by Martin MacDonagh, directed by Simon Prast, designed by John Verryt – with Leighton Cardno, Sophia Hawthorne, Jonathan Hardy, Lee Grant – ATC, Maidment Theatre, 19 May-19 June.
The Cripple of Inishmaan (1996)
The man behind us made it clear from the beginning that he was a reviewer. As the first few guffaws broke out in the audience, he observed to his neighbour in a top-lofty way, “Isn’t it curious how they always laugh at physical violence?” No doubt it is. We too were close enough to feel at risk from some of the flying egg-yokes.
He was still pontificating as we got up to go. Actually, I would have liked to pick his brains a bit. Sometimes I think I’m just too thick for this world. Why on earth choose this play, this strange piece of Irish slapstick, to put on in Auckland in 1999?
I mean, it is funny. There’s no doubt about that. Some of the accents were a bit wonky, but there were certainly plenty of laughs. The author’s main talent, it should be said at once, is the running gag:
– “D’ye have any mintios?” asks the thick lad who once fell in a hole as a child.
– “We have only what you see,” replies one of the eponymous cripple’s two aunties (the one who doesn’t talk to stones).
– “Mintios are good swayties. They have them all the time in America. D’ye have any mallow yallows?”
– “We have only what you see …” And so on and so on, beyond any duration you could imagine.
Later on it turns out that the auntie in question has a mad passion for mintios, and single-handedly ate all of the last consignment. Luckily there are some mallow yallows (and a stone) left to comfort the two old dears for the loss of their crippled boy to Hollywood. There’s a moment of awful tension when our hero returns having (it seems) forgotten to bring back any mintios for his old pal the thickie, but all is well when he triumphantly produces a bag of mallow yallows instead. Those are good swayties!
The style, as you’ll have gathered, is a curious mixture of J. M. Synge and Father Ted. It’s hard to say which of them predominates. The shadow of Riders to the Sea and (above all) The Playboy of the Western World lies heavy on this play. Comparison with the latter proves a bit invidious, though. Synge exposed the fatal Irish tendency to idolise braggarts and the violent bullies with lighthearted accuracy and a deadly aim. No wonder Yeats had to harangue the rioting crowds from the Abbey Stage. They didn’t like what the mirror was showing them. Ninety years on, Martin MacDonagh seems content to exhibit a collection of Irish stage types for the amusement of the English. Shades of Mrs Doyle and Father Jack, that’s what it is. One shudders to say it … Ballykissangel?
Okay, I have to admit there aren’t any leprechauns, but there’s a real winsome colleen with a wicked tongue on her (Sophia Hawthorne), a dipsomaniac old lady played with insane (and infectious) glee by Elizabeth McRae (a rest cure from Marge in Shortland Street) … oh, and there’s gossiping ol’ Johnnypateenmike, and grim Babbybobby, and thick Bartley, and just a host of other delightful comic lads and lasses down from the glen.
In the programme note we’re told that Martin MacDonagh is “one of the most sought-after young playwrights in Britain.” He remarks modestly “when they start saying it’s brilliant you … take it with a little pinch of salt.” Sorry, old chap. As far as I can see it would go down a treat at the Sunday School concert, but there’s just no point to it. As for the ATC, why didn’t they revive The Playboy of the Western World instead? It’s just so much more up-to-date.
The sets were good, though.