Hangmen – Gaiety Theatre – Review

Hangmen – Gaiety Theatre – Review

Dates: 11th March – 8th April 2023 – Mondays – Saturdays at 7.30PM
Matinees at 2.30PM on Thursdays and Saturdays

Gaiety Productions in association with Decadent Theatre Company proudly presents the IRISH PREMIERE of Hangmen by Martin McDonagh from 11 March – 8 April 2023.

Hangmen is written by Martin McDonagh and was first performed in 2015 at the Royal Court Theatre, in London. The play was inspired by the real-life hangman Harry Allen. The production received many plaudits and won the Olivier Award for Best New Play in 2016. This new production is the Irish Premiere and hot on the heels of the various Oscar nominations for The Banshees of Inisherin. Sadly, the Banshees won nothing… except our hearts!

Hangmen tells the story of the last Hangman in England, Harry Wade (Denis Conway). We meet him in 1963 when he is carrying out his work. He is just about to hang James Hennessy, a young man who protests his innocence to the bitter end. The play then cuts to two years later in 1965. Harry is a pub landlord and works alongside his wife Alice (Aisling O’Sullivan) and teenage daughter Shirley (Olivia Byrne). The pub has a regular motley crew of heavy drinkers including the hard-of-hearing Arthur (Daniel Reardon), along with his friends Charlie (Anthony Morris) and Bill (Joe Hanley). Inspector Fry (Gary Lydon) is another constant in the pub but feels separate from the rest of the group due to his line of work. There is some excitement in the pub today as a journalist has arrived for a quote from Harry as hanging has just been abolished! After much consternation, Harry grants the journalist an interview and they disappear upstairs. There is a new presence in the pub today though, as Mooney (Killian Scott) has arrived, and is taking an undue interest in Harry’s daughter Shirley.

This is another dark comedy from the ‘McDonagh school’. He has a very particular style of writing, the main difference in this one is the setting as it is based in the north of England in Oldham, with suitably thick northern accents. Mooney is the exception to this rule as he is an outsider, a ‘southerner’ from London.

It was interesting to see the reaction to The Banshees of Inisherin, while many loved it there was a vocal minority who reacted against it. In the final days before the Oscars, there was something of a backlash with many writers examining McDonagh’s Irish schtick. McDonagh seems to be a writer who generates strong emotions in those who see his work, which is never a bad thing! This piece is similar in style to many of his other works. It starts very strong but the resolution is less clear with more loose threads than usual. It still has many fine comedic moments and a dark and sinister outlook on the morals of the time.

The set design by Ciaran Bagnall creates the timber-framed public house. The illusion of depth is impressive and the setting works well for the required ambience. There are a number of other locations created using simple backdrops but it is a stylish setting.

There is a large cast and all have speaking roles, with very few cast members wasted. Denis Conway plays Harry Wade as a gruff and difficult man, who is something of a bully. Killian Scott plays his nemesis, Mooney. The star of Love/Hate and Dublin Murders surprisingly makes his professional theatre debut in this production. We are repeatedly told his character is meant to be ‘menacing’ and his slow and steady delivery of the lines, along with his intense stare, is quite unnerving. He dominates many scenes, creating an intimidating atmosphere. Aisling O’Sullivan generates nervous energy with her portrayal of Alice, the troubled wife of Harry. The other characters are used to lighten the mood, with Daniel Reardon (Arthur) and Anthony Morris (Charlie) creating a fine comedy duo.

The piece is set in the 60s but it is not the familiar ‘swinging 60s’. Instead, it’s a boorish world of casual racism and sexism. There are many good one-liners, and also simple humour which keeps the laughs coming, despite the troubling subject matter. This is a difficult piece of theatre to stage, with many different characters and ideas, but the cast does an impressive job of holding it all together. Martin McDonagh is already a household name and many will be won over by this opportunity to see a play never seen before on these shores. With the setting, it does feel quite different to what we’ve seen from him before, but there is still the familiar combination of dark storytelling and humour.

GARY LYDON (as Inspector Fry)
JOE HANLEY (as Bill)
OLIVIA BYRNE (as Shirley)
PETER GOWEN (as Pierrepoint)
STEPHEN O’LEARY (as Hennessy)

Creative Team
Director: Andrew Flynn
Set Design + LX Design: Ciaran Bagnall
Costume Design: Sinead Cuthbert
Sound Design: Fiona Sheil



Categories: Header, Theatre, Theatre Review

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