Anyone who knows me will tell you that my favorite writer is Martin McDonagh. There’s something about his scripts, the weirdness, the darkness, and the absolutely bonkers humor, that speaks to me. That being said, I never really liked Cripple of Inishmaan. It’s a good script, but it seemed to lack a lot of the energy that made McDonagh as a writer click – it was slow and standard, rather than his usual eclectic style. That is, until Saturday, when I saw it for myself. The Cripple of Inishmaan made me smile more than any play has in a very long time, and while it may have been lower energy than McDonagh’s other scripts, it was no less of a riotously fun time.
The play centers around the titular cripple, Billy Claven (Toby Poole), and his attempts to become a movie star while a film is being shot on the nearby island of Inishmore. I say this, but it’s really as much about the inhabitants of Inishmaan as anything else. This play’s greatest strength is its sense of place – the people who live on Inishmaan, with all their quirks, foibles and bright moments, were what made this play special. Johnnypateenmike’s bizarre news, Auntie Kate and Eileen’s nagging, Helen (Eilidh Mackinnon) and Bartley’s (Tom Caruth) childish antics and the alcoholism of Mammy O’Dougal (Millie Delaney-Doust) all grounded this story in a sense of honesty, all of which was heightened by McDonagh’s trademark humor. I can’t express how much I laughed during this play, all of which is down to the talent of the performers. Toby Poole as Billy and Megan Rough and Sophia Anderson as the Aunts were exceptional, but the absolute star of the show was Donovan Kelly as Johnnypateenmike. Kelly’s absolute commitment to the role of a kooky old man both emotionally and physically was incredible to watch, and every second he was on stage had me dying of laughter.
Johnnypateenmike wasn’t the only star of the show though, as the overall design of this play was beyond exceptional. With what is inarguably the best set design I’ve seen in the StAge, Cripple’s flowing sheets and craggy rocks made the locale of a small, desolate Irish island feel more than just dressing for the story, it heightened that integral sense of place. Even though most of the story took place in the one small set of the shop Billy’s Aunts ran, the world felt bigger than that. Part of it may have been the use of a full band, provided by the Folk and Traditional society, for interstitial music during scene changes. There’s something innately comforting about Irish traditional music to me, that made the transitions, as inelegant as they were, feel somewhat calming. In terms of flaws, the biggest was pacing. The team was done no favors by the script, which goes absolutely nowhere at a snail’s pace, but speedier pickups on cues and some quicker progression during certain scenes could have made the show feel much less long than it did.
But all in all, it takes an extraordinary effort to make me reconsider a script’s worthiness, especially with a writer I hold so dearly. Isi Webb-Jenkins and her team should be more than proud of their efforts because The Cripple of Inishmaan was one of the most enjoyable shows I’ve seen in St Andrews. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to have some Yalla-Mallows. Maybe a Minty-O too.