Humanising terrorists may only lie on the peripheries of controversy today, but back in the early 1990s, where we are taken in Martin McDonagh’s gruesomely funny 2001 black comedy, domestic sensitivities were far pricklier. Director Mark Thomson reminds us of how volatile militant groups can be when they are spurred on by a sense of righteous, bloodthirsty nationalism.
Interrupted by a phone call during a casual torture session, INLA Lieutenant ‘Mad’ Padraic (an exceptional performance from Peter Campion) is informed of some horrifying news: his cat, Wee Thomas, is poorly. Fearing the worst, Padraic rushes home, swearing revenge against anyone who’s harmed the wee feline. As he arrives however, a surprise is waiting for him…
The lives of darkly comic figures invaded by tragedy have become synonymous with McDonagh’s writing, as often a form of gloomy sobriety is sliced apart by gags and comebacks. The Irish playwright takes us back to a decade which saw the first killing of an English Army Sergeant by the INLA and satirises, with finespun nimbleness, the insanity of kneejerk revenge and urban warfare. The chaotic jingoism of Padraic reflects the trite, small-town mentality which is frequently geared towards aggressive nativism, as he wields his mini hand-cannons and curses the English (understandable?). And the rusticity of Inishmore is captured with precision by Colin Richmond’s leaking, decrepit abode, featuring a familiar rolling stage found in Of Mice and Men.
The reason McDonagh’s play is so successful is because it projects this lunacy to ideologies, as they characterise an often xenophobic outlook towards autonomous countries. He’s asking what ideologies are worth. Clearly, not as much as the life of an injured cat. Fastening the plot to this notion appeals to a common view of humanness where deeper emotional bonds trump political grievances, something which McDonagh actually achieves more successfully in both Beauty Queen of Leenane and In Bruges. Still, we are offered a truly comic meditation on the crazed fallout of international politics.
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