Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan is more distinguished by the the presence of Daniel Radcliffe in his third Broadway outing than for the contents of the play itself. A light comedy with a serious underbelly, this revival last seen in New York Off Broadway in 1998 and 2008, returns now by way of a London production and although the play suits Mr. Radcliffe perfectly, it isn’t much of a role. The star of the Harry Potter films only has three modest scenes in the first act and although he has a little more meat in the second act, the show is dominated by the supporting cast of eccentric characters played for laughs.
The story is set on the Aran Islands off the coast of Ireland in the mid 1930s. Here life is humble and Billy’s (Radcliffe) crippled leg and twisted arm make him even more secluded, though he escapes his confines through exhaustive reading. Billy is 17 now and his adoptive Aunties (Gillian Hanna and Ingrid Craigie) who raised him are concerned with how he will negotiate adult life. He fancies a local girl, Helen (Sarah Greene), who cracks eggs over people’s heads when she’s irritated. Her younger brother, Bartley, jibber-jabbers away about his fascination with telescopes and American candies. That pointless character takes up a lot of time in the play and adds very little, save for the fact that he is played so winningly by Conor MacNeill. The upheaval in the story is that an American film director is visiting the island to make a movie and many of the locals, including Billy, are excited to audition. The lure of the glamour of Hollywood is not lost on this remote community. The one who makes it is Billy, who is whisked away to Hollywood to star in a film with a crippled leading character. As it turns out, Hollywood offers disillusionment, but in a “no place like home” wrap up, Billy finds his heart’s desire.
An elaborate rotating set by Christopher Oram, who also designed the costumes, is a highlight of the production. There is a front drop showing the seashore and rolling clouds, an effect aided by Paule Constable’s moody lighting design. The drop rises to reveal a stone building that houses a general store and proceeds to rotate to show an outdoor section of the island, followed by a bedroom. The latter two are redressed as Billy’s Hollywood low rent hotel room and a community hall where a film is shown. Beyond is another painted drop of a landscape. McDonagh is brazen to write such a little play that requires five changes of setting, but in a way the elaborate design adds a kind of substance to the production that is lacking in the writing. Quirky characters and Irish small town settings make up the allure of this play and production with Radcliffe as the hook to entice an audience to observe this world.
McDonagh is a fascinating playwright with a unique voice and his other plays, such as The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Lieutenant of Inishmore and The Pillowman are filled with his eccentric characters, but offer a more layered plot and depth of character than “Cripple” does. The run is limited and for fans of Daniel Radcliffe this production will be worth it, but Mr. Radcliffe’s exceptional talents will be better utilized in productions to come.
For more information and tickets go to www.crippleofinishmaan.com.