So despite having seen a lot of theatre since my last post, I wanted to make the next one about the opening night of The Cripple of Innishmaan at the Noël Coward theatre. The Cripple of Innishmaan is the
second third in a season of plays from Michael Grandage - I did go see Peter and Alice, so sorry about the lack of review for that one!
The Cripple of Innishmaan is a revival of a play that first premiered at the National in 1996. It stars the boy I can’t stop calling Harry Potter – Daniel Radcliffe. But it would be a shame to focus only on Daniel because the play had a fantastic cast supporting him.
The play is set in 1934 on a rather bleak island called Inishmaan off the west coast of Ireland. Excitement stirs as a Hollywood film crew arrive to make a documentary about island life. (Cripple) Billy suffers from hemiplegia and was orphaned soon after his birth, and lives with his two adopted aunts who run a small convenience store. Billy sees the film as an opportunity out of the depressing existence that he is in and, despite ridicule and mockery from the townspeople, chases after a dream to be chosen for the film.
The play is darkly humorous and that’s my favourite type of comedy. There’s nothing PC about the way that Billy is referred to as Cripple Billy and, while I know we are viewing an era when it wasn’t considered mean-spirited to use descriptive language to refer to someone, it still felt rather shocking. When Billy asks one character to stop calling him ‘Cripple Billy’ and receives a confused ‘then what should I call you?’, you realise that this was a time when language like this came from isolation and ignorance, not malice.
Helen, the young, firey angry girl that Billy wants to kiss is a little over the top at times. She’s so mean that you wonder what Billy, who seems sensible and thoughtful and beyond the intelligence of most of the characters he shares a life with, would see in someone like her. Her brother Bartley too, relentlessly bullied by Helen, yet able to be as mean and nasty as her.
Billy’s life is depressing. I felt for him as he tries desperately to change the inevitability of his life and situation. Daniel Radcliffe was superb. I’ve watched him as an actor grow from Harry Potter, to the brave and bold lead in Equus, to The Cripple of Inishmaan and I think he still has so much more to give. To see him on stage is affirming – this is a young man that could have gone to Hollywood and made blockbuster after blockbuster, but he takes and introverted role about a boy that maybe in some ways he can relate to, trapped in an existence he can’t control. Fame can be a bit like that for someone as famous as Daniel.
He has improved greatly. He was natural and seamless in this role. I absolutely forgot I was watching Daniel Radcliffe on stage last night – to me he really embodied Billy. To compare to his last stage role in Equus, Daniel has really come on in creating a natural character without any awkwardness.
All the other actors were also fantastic. I thought Pat Shortt as Jonnypateenmike, the local gossip, was superb, and Padraic Delaney as Babbybobby was also great. Sarah Greene, as Helen, despite the over the top character worked it well with some sense of vulnerability that softened my opinion of her by the end.
This is really a fantastic play. Go see it! Get your tickets here.
Celeb count: Daniel Radcliffe (actor: Harry Potter)