Daniel Radcliffe, formerly famed as schoolboy wizard Harry Potter, continues to prove his performance pedigree in Michael Grandage’s revival of The Cripple Of Inishmaan.
In the title role of this ensemble piece, the young star’s contorted body – left arm withered and retracted, left leg twisted and unbending – is a feat of painful performance in itself, Radcliffe hobbling and stumbling agonisingly across the stage. Yet it never quite makes him as ugly or undesirable as his uniformly pessimistic friends and neighbours describe.
Boy, do they deride him, for his looks, for his habit of reading, for having parents that drowned themselves leaving him orphaned. It is something to do, I suppose, in a town where a goose wrapping its beak around a cat’s tail constitutes headline news.
You can understand why, when a Hollywood film crew comes to a neighbouring island, Cripple Billy, as he is endearingly labelled, sees a possible escape route from the monotony of watching cows.
Radcliffe, who brings out Billy’s desperation for acceptance, normality and escape, is the show’s heart, but McDonagh’s comedy, first seen at the National Theatre in 1997, is a true company piece, delving into this idiosyncratic community.
Sarah Greene rules the town as Helen, an angry, potty-mouthed teenage distortion of little orphan Annie with a lust for violence and egg misuse. Gillian Hanna and Ingrid Craigie create the best aged comedy due since The Muppets’ Statler and Waldorf in Billy’s adopted aunties, while Irish comedian Pat Shortt is perfectly irritating as local gossipmonger Johnnypateenmike.
In truth, not a lot happens, which is fitting for this 1930s Irish island where a Bible theft is big news. The treat of the production is in McDonagh’s dialogue, full of colloquial rhythm, simmering malevolence and insults aplenty. The comedy is classic McDonagh, lurking in the murkiest of dark areas, the pitch black shadows that find you every now and then questioning whether you should be laughing at all.
Yet beneath the insults, which are undoubtedly borne out of the need to pass time in a community in stasis, there is a warmth that rounds off some of the harsh edges.
On press night, director Michael Grandage apologised to the audience for a delay caused by the house lights, which could not be dimmed. As the curtain rose, the lights snapped off, plunging the auditorium into darkness. The transition felt somehow appropriate.