The Lieutenant of Inishmore

May 22 2014 | By More

★★★☆☆   Pumping

The Tron Cellar Bar  Wed 21 – Tue 27 May 2014

Gleefully raw and pumping gore, In Your Face Theatre’s immersive production of Martin McDonagh’s bloodbath-thriller, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, lives right up to the company’s name.

Kenny MacLeod. Photo © Edinburgh Photographic

Kenny MacLeod. Photo © Edinburgh Photographic

The basement room of the Tron Bar on Hunter Square is got up like a punk version of a Christo wrapping, with every available surface covered in plastic. The audience is similarly packaged in tight, blue rain-proof ponchos and oversized 80s-style sunglasses.

Spilling into this decidedly alien environment, McDonagh’s comic tale of Irish republican army splinter groups, registered nutters, stay-at-home loves and reprisal killings on the remote island of Inishmore takes on a heightened reality.

The script is a mocking, satirising attack on the glorification and mythologising of the IRA gunman, painted large in crude strokes as violent terrorists who would bomb a chip shop because it is an easier target than a pub; or extract the toenails and cut the nipples off a drug dealer – for selling to Catholic communities and not confining his toxic harvest to the Protestants and English.

On a proscenium stage – as seen at the Lyceum just two years ago – this hugely comic script parades a series of gruesome, bloody scenarios as mad Padraic, on a tour of duty in the North of Ireland as a member of IRA splinter group the INLA, takes a phone call from his Da in the midst of torturing a drug dealer, to discover that his beloved cat, Wee Thomas, is poorly.

In an immersive show such as this, the blood soon takes over. Events happen in the audience’s laps. When long-haired Davey first brings the cat in to Paidrig’s Da Donny, it is clearly not “poorly”: its brains are dripping across the seats.

You are not just witnessing the crass stupidity of retribution politics, you are experiencing it. There is even enough blood spurting around the room from sliced arteries to make it worth enduring the sweaty heat inside those ponchos, if only for the protection they afford.

Co-directors Christopher Rybak and Craig Boyle positively revel in the bloodiness of it all, as well they might. But as a play, it is not just a horror-fest, a bloody explosion for its own sake. The question is whether they do enough to allow a greater understanding to shine through.

“an outstanding performance: calm, even-handed and brutal”

The answer is that they do – mostly. And where they don’t, that is not down to bloodlust, but a need for greater attention to pace and character evolution – as well as, conversely, to the lack of a couple of tricks which, if in place, would enhance the physical experience no end.

The basics are pretty solid. Mark Barrett is hideously believable as Padraic, skewering Paul McCloud’s drug-dealing James in the North – then coming back to Inishmore to discover Matthew Swift as Davey and Kenny MacLeod as Donny, drunk on poteen and trying to pass Davey’s sister’s cat off is Thomas.

Swift and MacLeod have the big comic turns as the real buffoons of the piece. The comedy is there, but what is needed is more depth. Their characters stay too much on the one level, where progression could garner increases in both comedy and comprehension.

There is no such problem for Emma Lynne Harley as Davey’s wee sister, Mairead. At 16 she is all grown-up and not only sweet on Padraic but wants in to the INLA. Bonny to his Clyde, you believe Harley when she says she can blind a cow at 60 yards. It is an outstanding performance: calm, even-handed and brutal, so that the whole play – not just the other characters – twists around her own character’s little finger.

The trio of INLA foot soldiers who come to Inishmore in search of Padraic – turns out the drug-dealer was paying them protection money – are given full-blooded interpretations by James Boal as their leader Christy, with Laurence Pybus as Brendan and the excellent Sands Stirling as Joey.

If this swaggers in with real force and venom, it rather meanders to its conclusion once the bodies begin to pile up. It is at this point that the spurting of blood begins to get indulgent – for its own sake, not the sake of the plot.

Still, these six performances are previews for the fringe and there is still plenty of room for the production to grow and evolve. I fully expect that come August, when it switches to a three-shows-a-day schedule at the Hill Street Theatre, it will be easily getting an extra star – if not two. The potential is certainly there.

For now, however, there is much entertainment to be gained from seeing a show in evolution. This is not so much immersive theatre as feral theatre. And feral theatre at its best, to boot.

Running time 1 hr 40 mins (no interval)
The Tron Cellar Bar, 9 Hunter Square, Eh1 1QW
Wed 21 – Tue 27 May 2014
Daily (not Sun) 7.30pm.
In Your Face Theatre website:
Tickets from Ticketsource:

The Lieutenant of Inishmore returns during the Fringe to Hill Street Drama Lodge (Masters Room) 31 July – 24 August. Details from the Fringe website:

Purchase the script on Amazon:


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments (1)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

Sites That Link to this Post

  1. Scripts wanted : All Edinburgh | Oct 15 2019