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Hangmen review at Wyndham’s Theatre, London – ‘a triumphant transfer’

Andy Nyman and David Morrissey in Hangmen at Wyndhams Theatre. Photo: Tristram Kenton Andy Nyman and David Morrissey in Hangmen at Wyndhams Theatre. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Stained as a smoker’s lung, the Royal Court’s premiere of the new play by Martin McDonagh was undoubtedly one of the big events of this theatre year. Set in 1965, on day in which hanging was abolished in the UK, it’s a grimly funny and tightly constructed piece of writing, as much about the strange nature of fame as it is about capital punishment: a West End transfer was pretty much inevitable.

David Morrissey returns as hangman Harry Wade, minor celebrity and Oldham pub landlord, still basking in his past while lording it over the locals. The bulk of the play is set in Wade’s murky boozer, evocatively designed by Anna Fleischle, the colour palette all ale and ashtray.

The initial sitcom familiarity of the production is blown wide open by the arrival of Johnny Flynn’s unnerving, enigmatic interloper, Mooney, a cocky southerner with an uneasy way of curling his words.  McDonagh’s skill at this sort of material becomes even clearer on a second viewing. Each line is beautifully barbed. Some of the humour is almost too cruel in fact, and while that’s always been the way McDonagh works, the misogyny can’t completely be written off as a relic of the era.

While Andy Nyman slips effortlessly into Reece Shearsmith’s shoes as Wade’s stuttering sidekick, Syd, it’s Flynn’s performance which leaves the deepest marks. There’s something delectably odd about him, a little off, a little skewed, and his unnerving manner infects the production. There’s impressive work too from Bronwyn James, as Wade’s daughter, a humanising presence in a wicked world.

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A triumphant transfer for Martin McDonagh’s barbed, pitch-black comedy