Thursday 21st July to Saturday 23rd July and Tuesday 26th July to Saturday 30th July 2005
Directed by Jacquie Penrose
A small island community in the west of Ireland is stirred from its habits by the arrival in 1934 of a Hollywood film crew, making a documentary about the life of the islands. Billy, the "cripple" of the title, wants more than any to make his escape.
This lyrical, absorbing play - a major success at the National Theatre in 1996 - reflects with great humanity the humour and cruelty brought about by a life of isolation, ignorance, prejudice and boredom.
Set on the small Aran Islands community of Inishmaan off the Western Coast of Ireland, circa 1934, the inhabitants are excited to learn of a Hollywood film crew's arrival in neighbouring Inishmore to make a documentary about life on the islands. "Cripple" Billy Claven, eager to escape the gossip, poverty and boredom of Inishmaan, vies for a part in the film, and to everyone's surprise, the orphan and outcast gets his chance.
'The Cripple of Inishmaan' opened on December 12th 1996 at Royal National Theatre (Cottesloe) in London. In 1998, it opened at Joseph Papp Public Theatre in New York City. It is the first play in the "The Aran Islands Trilogy", by playwright Martin McDonagh, the second being 'The Lieutenant of Inishmore' and the third being the as yet unpublished 'The Banshees of Inisheer'.
This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977. The production was nominated for 'Best Amateur Drama' and Ingrid Corrigan was nominated for 'Best Amateur Actress' for her portrayal of Eileen in The News 'Guide' Awards 2005.
|Stage Manager||John Wilcox|
|Assistant Stage Managers||Steph Chaplen|
|Lighting Design||Damon Wakelin|
|Filmed scene||Darryl Wakelin |
|Sound Recordist||Darryl Wakelin|
|Publicity||Jaspar Utley |
|Set Design||Jacquie Penrose|
|Programme Design||Derek Callam|
|Front of House||Zoë Chapman|
Set in Ireland, 'The Cripple of Inishmaan' is only distantly about the troubles of Ireland. The trouble with Ireland - and places like it - may be more to the point. Inishmaan is a community isolated by time and space, its people driven to cruelty by boredom and ignorance. The Catholic Church lurks at the edge of the play, its priests fingering the children, its indoctrination keeping the people in the dark: "Did you ever see the Virgin Mary thinking aloud? No, you didn't. And it didn't do her any harm!" Also in Martin McDonagh's sights is the sentimentality of Irish myth-making - from mist-wrapped Celtic whimsy to the kind of romanticising of the 'noble peasant' that features in Robert Flaherty's film 'Man of Aran'.
It is this making of this film on the neighbouring island of Inishmore that provides the catalyst for the action of the play, and its distortions attract the sharp edge of McDonagh's scorn. Flaherty portrays the simple, heroic islanders battling mountainous seas to scrape a living hunting sharks (an industry that had in fact died out decades before Flaherty and his crew arrived); McDonagh's islanders battle with boredom and the sea only gets a mention as a possible escape route. The only living being scraped is from a small shop stocking nothing but peas, eggs and sweeties. There are some big hearts beneath the small minds, but they are buried deep beneath thick carapaces of indifference, because exposing them in this harsh world could be fatal.
It may be a harsh world, but McDonagh has a highly developed sense of the absurd. In fact the shades of Beckett and Godot are not far away. In this case Godot, in the shape of Flaherty, does arrive (and solves nothing) but there is a familiar sense of the aching silliness of waiting, of time-filling, of being born astride the grave, of humour and dogged humanity.
So there are many rich seams in the play, and working on it has been a pleasure. Rehearsals regularly collapse in helpless laughter, contradicting the usual claim that rehearsing comedy is never funny - you need a really gloomy tragedy if you want a good laugh in rehearsal. Perhaps it is because there is tragedy just below the surface that we find it so funny.
It can also be frustrating work at times. McDonagh is a writer who cannot resist a gag, heedless of anything as old fashioned as Stanislavskian through-line or even simple consistency, and we have found ourselves wresting mightily with a string of funny lines where funny lines have absolutely no business to be. But we forgive our writer as the delicious rhythms of his dialogue start to sing, and his characters, with hardly any back story or subtextual detail to help, come sparklingly alive.
Waves lapping at the shore of the remote Irish island of Inishmaan set the rhythm of Martin McDonagh's play and Bench Theatre's production. Director Jacquie Penrose recognises that this blend of Irish whimsy and sharp social criticism cannot be hurried. The result is that it is equally funny and shocking.
The play focuses on "cripple Billy", who is seduced by a Hollywood film crew's arrival into trying to escape the prison in which his disability places him. It is a prison partly created in his own mind by the mystery of his past, partly imposed by the casual cruelty to which he is exposed through the islanders' prejudice and boredom.
All these facts are developed in a poignant performance by Luke Smith - and counterpointed effectively by three members of the Corrigan family in particular. Peter Corrigan is gloriously bluff as a news-hound who cannot ask a direct question. Ingrid C turns vexation into a fine art as one of Billy's unofficial aunts. And Alice C makes vicious child Helen all the more horrifying by giving her a sweet smile and deadpan delivery. Until July 30.
But the cast has no serious weaknesses - an event whose regularity explains why Bench is at the forefront of amateur theatre in south-east Hampshire.
The News, 23rd July 2005