Monday, 20 August 2018


I have always believed in the power of humour, whether satire or farce.  The sharpest of knives is comedy in debunking, clarifying and fumigating.  Which leads me to Ireland and to the “troubles” which always sounded more like a tummy bug than the carnage which saw 3,500 people slaughtered in the latter part of the 20th century. At the time I was running a salesforce. One of my salesman in Northern Ireland said conversationally to me:

“I was Just about to make a call on the House of Frazer when there was a great whoomph sound and the windows blew out, glass and blood everywhere”

“My God” I said, “that’s terrible. What did you do?”

“I strolled down the road and went to call on Woolworth instead.”

My sense of the troubles from this was that people got on with it however terrible things were. More recently  I visited Belfast which felt like going to Berlin, modern architecture, trendy bars and restaurants. The reality a decade before had been tragic – or farcical - depending on how you see things.

Last week we saw “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” by Martin McDonagh.  It first appeared in the West End in 2001 and Broadway in 2006. Back then it must have touched some raw nerves – the Good Friday agreement had only been signed in 1998. Martin has a rip roaring reputation for black comedy and drama. His most recent triumph is writing and directing the award winning film “T.”

The Lieutenant of Inishmore is set in 1993 as IRA violence was revving up. In a nutshell the play is a non-stop farce culminating with a stage covered by four corpses, three of whom are partially dismembered and two dead cats. It includes some gruesome onstage torture – the pulling out of toenails and planning the next outrage “which is your favourite nipple? I’ll be kind - tell me and I’ll only cut the other one off.”

Its roller-coaster hilarity springs from the behaviour of Mad Padraig whose behaviour is too violent for the IRA and subsequently too much for its offshoot the INLA. He makes even Iago look civilised. Knowing there’s nothing he wouldn’t do, his dewy eyed sentimentality about Wee Willy his pet cat creates the contrast and unpredictability between brutality and tenderness that makes for such uneasy laughter. In a situation where three men being blinded by an airgun-carrying teenage girl brought the house down, you have to admit that’s a cool theatrical trick being flaunted. And you also have to admit the overreaction, beastliness and clumsy inanity of everyone in the cast indelibly suggests the absurdity of conflict and violence especially when the cause of it all is a misunderstanding. Desdemona’s
hanky is Padraig’s black cat. And cats are funny in the way hankies aren’t.

It’s reframes our understanding of those troubles and like all great plays has us always on tenterhooks. It’s a masterpiece. It’s also very, very funny.

No comments: