THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN
The Phoenix Theatre Company in Christchurch Hall
Mary Redman was at the opening night:
Inishmaan Island is off the far west coast of Ireland whose nearest due west neighbour is America. This impoverished part of the country was known during the 1930s as one of the most backward areas where tiny villages relied on fishing and keeping a few animals to survive. Education was lacking and gossip thrived amongst both women and men.
This is the setting for Martin McDonagh's “Comedy Drama” which was chosen by Phoenix for their latest production with Sarah Wilson as director.
This wasn't an easy play to stage with its difficult demands on the cast's acting abilities and their voice projection.
The atmosphere livened up a bit, however, with the arrival of Syd Smith's Johnnypateenmike with his “news” of events further afield. Gemma Anthony's Helen, a sparky young lady not given to tolerance, proved to be the most strikingly lively cast member whose words were easily audible to the hall.
The hero of the piece Billy, a young man with physical impairments who had been teased all his life as “Cripple”, was thoughtfully played by Liam O'Connor. In addition to his existing problems he receives the news that he also has a fatal form of tuberculosis (and no treatment where he lives).
Really the play came to full life whenever the adult male cast were down on the beach and so much nearer to the audience. We could hear every word from Geoff Hadley as BabbyBobby preparing his boat to go to sea. Another bright spark was Clare Woodward's Mammy O'Dougal with her drinking and eccentric ways. There was also enjoyable use of old film of the fishing industry of the time.
Chris Saxton's design incorporated a tiny shop and its living accommodation plus the really clever use of a rowing dinghy and pebbles on the auditorium floor. This led to one of the major difficulties of the production. Sarah had chosen to block the back wall of the stage with a long shop counter. This meant that a useful acting area was obstructed, many of the cast were upstaged and the cast's voices were too weak to travel the sheer distance in the long hall. The counter could have easily been on one side and further downstage.
Pace would have been helped if some of the cast had been surer on their words, as we heard the Prompt fairly frequently.
And when amateur groups are deciding what to perform they really do need to take into account their knowledge of the background to the play. If a troupe from Inishmaan had tried to put on a play about Essex Girls the result would more than likely have been much the same as this production. To have heard every word would have been great.