Okay, okay, so I know what you’re all really wondering – was Potter any good? Well after watching him straddle a horse in his birthday suit in Equus and now having seen him in Michael Grandage’s latest production in his season – Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan – what I can say is that Daniel Radcliffe doesn’t half chose hard parts. But perhaps that’s the point… He is a great physical actor in this role, deftly and superbly portraying someone with cerebral palsy, one half of his body is stuck in a rictus like limp that he never lets go of. Equally commendable is his Irish accent, which can’t have been easy as the script dances and lilts in a way only a truly Irish dialect can. It seems Radcliffe’s days spent fighting off Voldermort and writhing in pain have served him well here. And yet as our central character, “crippled Billy”, he lacks a sense of total transformation, as if he hasn’t quite got to the heart of the character. As such there were moments where my heart should have broken for Billy, but it didn’t.
In fact the production as a whole lacked the knife twist that McDonagh’s work so deftly handles in its lexical brutality – everyone is a “fecker” and ugly enough to “scare off pigs”; this is a remote island full to bursting with people ‘crippled on the inside’. Grandage however decided to err on the light side, ramping up the comic factor – and why not, the play is most of all insanely funny. The audience, myself included, were having a great time. Ingrid Craigie and Gillian Hanna as Billy’s mad aunts surrounded by their tins of beans and often caught talking to stones, are superb in their comic precision. Another brilliant performance was June Watson as Mammy, who often received rounds of applause for her delicious comebacks. The ensemble could not be faulted in fact and the whole production really took off due to this cohesion between the cast.
And yet, that darkness was lacking, perhaps it only really came in to play in the second half, when we were made even more aware of the fact that nothing is the whole truth, we, like the characters are spun web after web, constantly having to re-evaluate who we can trust, if anyone, on this island. At one point Billy protests that “the truth is not as bad as you think it will be” – a message that McDonagh makes sure we know is not the reality at all. This only came to bear in the very last moments of the show where all of us were made aware that we like stories to have heroes and villains, to always feel like we know more than the protagonist and to most of all get our happy ending. Life is not like that, life is stranger than that, and this is where the knife finally does twist – we can dupe ourselves as much as we want, but the truth will eventually catch up with us, and it won’t be “easier than we think”.
A set a little bit reminiscent of The Hobbit, and lighting that matched Grandage’s decision to stay on the brighter side of things, meant that the performances were above all else the most important thing on stage, and so they should be; with a script this stunning, we really only needed the words. It will be a corker – but maybe not for everyone. Go if you like a ‘proper play’ and a proper laugh.
The Cripple of Inishmaan is playing the Noel Coward Theatre until 31 August. For more information and tickets, see the Michael Grandage Company website.