In Marie Jones’ Stones in His Pockets, which became a long-running West End hit in 2000, a small rural Irish town is thrown into the spotlight as the location for the making of a big Hollywood film, with its locals being conscripted as extras.
Sarah Greene and Conor MacNeill in The Cripple of Inishmaan Photo: Johan Persson
Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan offers an even more eventful account of another Irish location shoot on the island of Inishmore and its effects on a few local residents - and in particular one who finds himself spirited to Hollywood itself to screen test for a major role.
He is Billy, the disabled title character who had been orphaned as a child and now lives with his two spinster aunts who run a provisions store in the local community that seems to mainly stock endless cans of peas and selected brands of imported American sweets. Billy spends most of his time either staring endlessly at cows or reading; now, finally, he senses a chance for escape.
McDonagh always writes with a lovely, loving precision about his characters and this rich canvas of Irish small-town life is brought to compassionate, detailed life in Michael Grandage’s richly acted production, the third in his own company’s residency at the Noel Coward.
The season has already set up a defiant marker for a new way of attracting new audiences to the West End, with the first two shows seen by more than 140,000 people, 25% of them first-time bookers, as well as free schools performances, a youth theatre and offering paid training opportunities for young aspiring theatremakers.
Part of the attraction of the Grandage company is its old-fashioned headlining of its productions with bona fide stars. After the veteran Judi Dench in the world premiere of John Logan’s Peter and Alice, now it is the turn of Daniel Radcliffe, who is still only 23 but has grown up in front of our eyes as the star of Harry Potter, so feels as though he’s as much a piece of public property as Dench.
But the joy of Radcliffe is that he’s not taking easy options: after first going out on a limb to make his professional stage debut appearing in the buff in Equus six years ago, he’s now going out on a limp to play Billy.(In between these two roles, he’s also appeared on Broadway as an effortless song and dance man in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying).
He brings an affecting warmth and real resilience to the role that’s full of bold, brave choices and dignity, not least the natural, unsentimental representation of his character’s disability.
Though he does take a solo curtain bow as befits his star status and serious achievement, this is no one-man show but a stunning company effort. There are tremendous turns from Ingrid Craigie and Gillian Hanna as Billy’s devoted aunts, Pat Shortt as the feisty town gossip and June Watson as his ageing mother, and Sarah Greene and Conor MacNeill as a feisty pair of brother and sister.
Both play and production have a swaggering savagery and sweetness that constantly surprise and beguile. The Grandage Company’s third consecutive smash hit is a must-see.