Just another day at the office for Padraic.
Another day spent torturing low-level drug dealers who dare to sell their wares to the flower of Catholic youth.
But just as he’s about to take a razor to the dealer’s nipple, Padraic, AKA “Mad Padraic”, the leader of an Irish nationalist terror cell, gets a phone call from his dad.
Wee Thomas, Padriac’s beloved black cat, has taken poorly.
The torture session is suspended and Padraic, in a panic, heads home to sleepy Inishmore, only to find that Wee Thomas is worse than poorly. In fact he’s had his head smeared all over the road by unknown assailants.
So begins a cycle of mayhem and revenge killing, the bloodiness of which is exceeded only by its pointlessness.
Combining the black comic sensibilities of Joe Orton with the gleeful goriness of Quentin Tarantino, Martin McDonagh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore skewers the extremist mindset that held sway in Northern Ireland in the years prior to Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Even now, McDonagh’s offhand references to chip shop bombings and jokes about Airey Neave can make you wince. Cat lovers may want to opt for seat close to the exit.
Directed by Deborah Mullhall and played on a non-naturalistic set (a Tom Bannerman design) whose kooky angles underline the off-kilter psychology of the characters, the performances are big and buoyant. Lloyd Allison-Young powers the story with his dashingly unhinged Padraic. Alice Birbara shines as Mairead, the 16-year-old village tomboy who hones her marksmanship shooting out the eyes of diary cows.
There’s also good comic teamwork from James McCrudden (Padraic’s dad Donny) and Patrick Holman as local lad Davey, who looks set to take the blame for Wee Thomas’ untimely demise.
Energy in spades then but at times it short-circuits McDonagh’s blacker-than-black humour. Too often, scenes settle for easy chuckles at the expense of more uncomfortable laughter that should emerge from the juxtapositioning of bathos and horror.
That said, on this night, the audience – which had a large teenaged component to it – lapped up the gore and craziness, with the biggest laughs generated by the production’s charming primitive feline puppets and a heap of less-than-convincing body parts that brought forth shrieks of amusement.