If you went to a good university, you would have studied the usual suspects: Shakespeare, Pinter, Beckett and Churchill. If you went to a great university, you may have studied Martin McDonagh. To non-theatre goers, McDonagh is the man behind Seven Psychopaths and In Bruges which has become something of a cult classic. He wrote and directed both. I haven’t seen the films because I thought they might be on the violent side a tad. I’m feeling brave though. Maybe soon. Anyway, for me, McDonagh is the man that wrote The Pillowman. I’d give anything to go back in time and see the original cast. It starred David Tennant and Jim Broadbent! He’s also the man behind The Cripple of Inishmaan. I should probably crack on and review his latest play.
Hangmen is about a hangman, more hang … fellows come into it but let’s talk about that later. Harry is a pub landlord and the finest hangman in England. Pierrepoint may boost bigger numbers but he hung Nazis during the war and that’s not honest work. Also, his hair smells bad. As with most plays, we need an inciting incident. This has two. A reporter comes to question Harry on the day they’ve abolished hanging and a Londoner disrupts their set Northern ways. The lads drink in the presence of a hangman and Harry keeps his opinions to himself, he is just a mere servant to the crown. That attitude does not last very long.
This is McDonagh’s first play in more than ten years and as one of the finest Irish playwrights, many of theatre’s finest have jumped at the chance to star. The cast include: David Morrissey (the other doctor in that Christmas special of Doctor Who), Andy Nyman (I know him best from the underrated Campus and have seen him in Ayckbourn); the original run at The Royal Court had Ralph Ineson (remarkable actor but he will always be Chris ‘Finchy’ Finch from The Office) and Reece Shearsmith (better known for The League of Gentlemen but he’s my Leo Bloom). Such is the way with a dark comedy, our ‘villain’ stole the show. Johnny Flynn is new to me and an instant new favourite to all that have seen Hangmen.
Matthew Dunster directs this fantastic new piece. The humour is perfectly timed and the tension can be cut with a knife, but we all know the rope is the most dignified way to kill something. I found myself laughing at the darkest times. I do adore theatre that reminds us that tragedy and comedy are different sides of the same coins rather than polar opposites. How does the old saying go? “Tragedy plus time equals comedy.” We see the chair come out from behind the curtain and there is a pause. The next line is “Smell my hair.” What a riot! What an ending! I suppose you had to be there.