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Lane Cove Theatre Company: The Lieutenant of Inishmore - Review by Faith Jessel

You don't often come across plays about violence and terrorism that leave you thoroughly entertained. Confronted and informed? Of course. Highly amused at the unexpected irony and absurdity? Not so much. Martin McDonagh's masterfully controversial ‘The Lieutenant of Inishmore’ delivers this wonderful juxtaposition in its blistering exploration of how angry young people blindly follow patriotic platitudes, justify the unjustifiable and turn morality on its head. Lane Cove Theatre delivers a sucker punch of sinister wit, casual brutality and sardonic laughter.

Set in 1993 rural Ireland at the height of political turmoil, we follow the chaos of Padraic, a young Irish nationalist who returns home to Inishmore after receiving news of his beloved cat’s possible demise. What ensues is a series of brutal and increasingly bizarre events as he ruthlessly seeks revenge on behalf of ‘Poor Wee Thomas.’ 

A distinctly Irish play, exploring Irish politics will always have its challenges.The dilemma in staging this black comedy lies in balancing satire with intense violence and graphic moments, whilst maintaining emotional resonance. This is heavy stuff. 

While none of the violent action is cut, co-directors Kathryn Thomas and Mitch Garling focus on the irony and absurdity, possibly to combat alienating some members of an eclectic audience. While the laughter was non stop, a deeper exploration of the genuine psychosis motivating young extremists would have heightened the stakes. There were significant moments that could have delved beyond the anarchy to throw shade upon the seething anger and sadness beneath the savagery and peculiar sentimentality of young activists. 

Thomas’s simple stage setting of the corner of a run-down suburban lounge-room and rocky outcrop sitting in the middle of no-man's land, provides a blend of gritty realism and desolate atmosphere for a fittingly young and tightly wound ensemble. All deliver raw and intense performances, and a genuine passion and commitment for the material shines. 

Jude Egerton-Warburton is outstanding as madman and loose cannon, Paidric a compelling protagonist who keeps audiences on the edge of their seats. Warburton excelled at cheerfully stalking, torturing or killing whomever he can lay his hands on with a level of biting and explosive energy that reached beyond the backrow. His hilariously disturbing opening scene with latest torture job, James (Bryce Lavery-Jacko), hooked us in with its twisted matter-of-factness. Jacko was particularly adept in his comic reactions and delivery and left us wanting more from this all too brief scene. 

The only two female characters of Mairead (Niamh Smith) and Joey (Bridgette Bennett)  who is usually cast as male, effectively portray the passive roles and inherent misogyny imposed on women during the era, making Mairead’s arc of ‘love interest gone rogue’ all the more satisfying. Keiden Cheung as Christy, leading a potential assassination plot with his accomplice Brendan, played by Jack Stout, vividly illustrates the youthful and misguided nature of these zealots.

Cam Ralph authentically portrayed Padraic’s cantankerous father, Donny, marvellously capturing the essence of Irish satire with precision. He grounded the bleak antics while still making his character one of the funniest and most effective on stage, employing a skillful 'less is more' approach. Oscar Baird plays his wingman and opposite, the perpetually reactive Davey, naively entangled in a series of unfortunate events he is desperate to escape, emulating jittery, comic energy. 

‘Lieutenant of Inishmore’ is a wickedly entertaining and explosively funny theatrical experience. It delivers a visceral exploration of extremism, loyalty, and the consequences of violence, leaving the audience both unsettled and thoroughly entertained. 

But it also explores universal themes, sadly more relevant than ever, shedding light on the consequences of prioritising ideology over human life. Despite being manipulated, savage and deluded, the characters are genuinely mobilised in a quest for justice that their ancestors never achieved. Can cycles of violence and retribution ever be broken, and if so, how? Or are we doomed to perpetuate the consequences of apathy? 

McDonagh gifts the director with two optional play endings that explore these questions: One is more optimistic, the other…. well, I won't leave any spoilers except to end with, there is a reason this play is an HSC text. I hope, more than ever, the debate after this compelling and lively rendition will be robust. 

The Lieutenant of Inishmore plays at The Lane Cove Theatre Company from 10 - 26 May 2024. See for further details 

Photos courtsey of Jim Crew and Keith Baetz

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