Theatre review:The Lieutenant of Inishmore and It Happened in Key West | Theatre | Entertainment
Sam Rockwell’s bigoted cop, who insists that his racist brutality should be described as “people-of-colour torturing”, rather than any more offensive term, left audiences gasping in alternate disbelief and delight.
Long before McDonagh took his blackly comic tightrope act to the screen, he was upsetting our moral compasses on stage and nowhere more so than in The Lieutenant Of Inishmore.
This study of an Irish terrorist, too deranged even for the IRA, was written in 1994 but, on account of its sensitive subject matter, not staged until 2001.
Now, with The Troubles mostly in the past, it’s easier to laugh at Padraic (Aidan Turner), who is first seen torturing a drug pusher. He explains that he wouldn’t have objected if the man had dealt only with Protestants, before asking if he’d prefer him to cut off his left nipple or his right.
Like Hitler with his dog Blondi, Padraic is a psychopath with a devotion to animals. Discovering that his cat has been run over, he seeks violent revenge.
Meanwhile, three fellow terrorists, outraged by his indiscipline, are out to murder him. Their confrontation leads to a bloodbath that would make Sweeney Todd quail.
“It’s incidents like this does put tourists off Ireland,” Padraic’s father (excellent Denis Conway) observes, as he and young Davey (Chris Walley, in an exceptionally promising debut) slice up three corpses for easy disposal.
And it’s plays like this, both entertaining and challenging, that draw audiences to the theatre.
Michael Grandage directs with great sensitivity to the rhythms of McDonagh’s dialogue, midway between JM Synge and Harold Pinter.
It’s almost possible to smell the peat on Christopher Oram’s island cottage set. Aidan Turner, capitalising on his TV celebrity, gives a compelling performance that even succeeds in winning sympathy for Padraic.
Bad taste also abounds in It Happened In Key West, not all of it intentional.
This new musical is based on the real-life story of a German count who, after 40 years searching for his one true love, chances on her when he is shipwrecked off the Florida coast, only to lose her soon afterwards to tuberculosis.
Not content with mourning her along with her rapacious Cuban family (the Cuban Embassy should sue for defamation), he digs up her body and keeps it in various stages of mummification for seven years.
The disinterment of a lover with TB comes straight from Alexandre Dumas’s Lady Of The Camellias and the Count’s subsequent attempt to reanimate her owes much to Baron Frankenstein.
The problem with the script, credited to Jill Santoriello, Jason Huza and Jeremiah James, is that it can’t decide whether this is a passionate romance or high camp horror story.
Jill Santoriello’s lyrics are sharp but her score is lacklustre.
A hardworking cast led by the powerful Wade McCollum give their all in Marc Robin’s production but this musical should be left buried.
The Lieutenant of inishmore
Noël Coward Theatre, London WC2 (Tickets: 0344 482 5138/ delfontmackintosh.co.uk; £10-£124)
It Happened In Key West
Charing Cross Theatre, London W2 (Tickets: 08444 930650/ charingcrosstheatre.co.uk; £17.50-£49.50)