The Cripple of Inishmaan

Tue 14th – Sat 18th February 2017

reviews

Clare Cavenagh

at 12:36 on 15th Feb 2017

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The Cripple of Inishmaan, depicting the adventures of Cripple Billy and the other inhabitants of the remote Irish island of Inishmaan had a spirited opening at the ADC last night. The tale presents Billy's adventures as he tries to launch his Hollywood career off the back of a film being made nearby, as well as life in the island community, with and without him. Although not perfect, this production was an interesting and often enjoyable introduction to a complex play.

The play itself does not disappoint. The Cripple of Inishmaan has a huge range, skipping effortlessly from light-hearted jokes to irreverence to black humour to tragedy and back again. Throughout, there is a deep reluctance to allow simplifications of the play's characters, or any of the action. It's hard to pick out someone who's really good in this show, everyone has shadows and shades to their personalities, as well as areas of light and characteristics which inspire deep sympathy. The plot keeps up this complex game - there is nary a moment in the show which is not undermined or altered by some other event. As soon as you think you've got a handle on what's going on, the ground moves under you again, and everything looks slightly different.

This is taken to the extreme in the play's turning point (don't worry, I'm not going to spoil it), when a shocking, but masterfully underhand revelation changes the significance of previously seen moments. This twist represents a huge manipulation of not only the characters onstage, but the audience as well, and it elicited gasps of shock from the audience last night. This feels like a moment which could be divisive - while it is certainly clever, and certainly affecting, it might be too much of a trick for some. It's carefully handled in this production, but that seems to be no indication of how viewers will respond.

The production itself, while containing some glowing performances, and some very engaging passages, is not spotless. Eve Delaney and Toby Waterworth are brilliant as the violent coquette Helen and her sweet-obsessed brother Bartley, bringing comedy and sometimes warmth to all of their scenes, while keeping an edge of cruelty which kept the audience on edge. Connor Dumbrell was excellent as Billy. His physical performance of Billy's disability was effective and consistent but retained a lightness of touch which kept it from being gratuitous, and he made the character sympathetic and goodhearted without becoming a cliché of the saintliness of invalids. The sets (the work of designer Carina Harford) though simple, were also skilfully put together and used, particularly the painted backdrop of a seascape.

Some other performances in the show were a little more disappointing however, with acting occasionally coming across as slightly stilted, lines rushed through with attention to a general shape, but a lack of the minute care needed to make each word understood. Accents were mostly successful, with the occasional understandable slip. Some characters were hit a little hard however, and certain expressions, words or movements veered on occasion into hammy caricature.

The Cripple of Inishmaan is certainly a very interesting play, and this production had enough moments of brilliance to carry and audience through very happily. Many of the jokes got big laughs, and audience reactions to many of the more charged moments of the play were appropriate and strong. Although not without its problems, this production can be interesting, charming and arresting.

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