Thursday 5 July 2018

Aidan Turner in The Lieutenant of Inishmore

Aidan Turner as Padraic.  Photo: Johan Persson

I have long considered Aidan Turner to be a fine comic actor even though, in recent times, he has seldom had the chance to show off this skill. I am also a great admirer of the playwright Martin McDonagh, so you can imagine how thrilled I was when last November Michael Grandage Company announced Aidan had been cast in The Lieutenant of Inishmore.

Fast forward a few months and I'm here at the first preview of the play. The venue is pretty much sold out and I'm grateful for the air conditioning in this little Rococo theatre as I wait for the curtain to go up. I have some anxieties: people walked out of the show when it was first performed 17 years ago. But time has been kind to this play and the situation in Ireland has changed over the years. Now, for all the gore and violence, it is the comedy that comes to the fore. And, boy, is this play funny! Brutal but funny! The laughs come thick and fast throughout with just the occasional moment given for the audience to feel shocked by what they've witnessed before being bombarded by funny lines and ridiculous situations again. One of the things I like about McDonagh's plays is how economical they are. Nothing is mentioned that doesn't have some relevance at a later point and this really draws the audience in.

Aidan plays Mad Padraic, a terrorist deemed too violent for the IRA, whose only friend in the world is his cat, Wee Thomas. When Wee Thomas is knocked over on a lonely road, Padraic is determined to find out who is to blame.

Aidan Turner and Charlie Murphy
Photo: Johan Persson
While Aidan is clearly the star of the show, it is very much an ensemble piece and he's not being unduly modest when he says it feels strange to be the play's poster boy, "If I had my way we'd all be on the poster," he says, "I'm the title character but line for line, I don't know if I have the most dialogue. It's an ensemble." Certainly other characters have more time on stage than Padraic and all the cast deserve praise, particularly Chris Walley who plays Davey.

Much as the play relies on a strong cast to carry it off, Aidan clearly brings something special to the table. As soon as he walks on stage, I can see how at home he is. He fills the stage. Even when he's sitting quietly in the corner stroking his cat while the action goes on elsewhere, I find myself stealing the odd glance at him.

We see many sides of Padraic: now matter-of-fact, now murderous, now broken-hearted, now Wee Thomas's 'Daddy', now singing, now sexy, now angry, now very angry! And always mad!  As a very physical actor this role is ideal for Aidan as there is so much visual comedy: his facial expressions say as much as his words. His voice goes from business-like when he's torturing someone to quivering when he learns his puss-cat is ill. And he's good. He has terrific comic timing which is so essential in this fast paced play. Anyone who has him down as just a handsome man with a great chest must surely be having a rethink.

Aidan is clearly in his element on stage and this shines through his whole performance. This is a man having fun. Almost too much fun it turns out for at one point, during an execution scene, he begins to smile, then grin. Is he going to corpse? The audience starts giggling, part willing him to laugh, part wanting him to pull it back. And recover he does. After a few seconds he gets back into role and carries on with the scene, but he's given the audience a wonderful, shared moment that is oh-so-special.

Apart from that, the preview seems to go without a hitch, although my heart is in my mouth every time Padraic draws his guns from their holsters. Are they going to get stuck? It's surely an incident waiting to happen!

"Will it never end?" wails Davey (Chris Walley) as the situation in the show spirals out of control and I realise that this all-too-short play is nearing it's finale. I'm just not ready for it to finish but finish it does, to be met by a well-deserved standing ovation from the audience. Aidan looks over-the-moon at the reaction as he takes a bow, pleased and proud to be part of a terrific production.

With happy chatter all around me I make my way to the stage door in the hope that Aidan will come out to see the crowd.  After about twenty minutes he appears to the cheers of fans. He works his way along the barrier signing programmes, tickets and the play leaflets. (There is a notice up saying the cast will only sign show related material. The programmes are £4 each.) Aidan seems happy and, although signing at speed, constantly thanks people for their kind words. It seems to me that, this first night, everyone gets their programmes signed. When I go a week later to the matinee, Aidan comes out after about ten minutes and this time I'm aware that several people do not get autographs. I guess there's a lot of luck involved.

I can't recommend The Lieutenant of Inishmore enough. It is funny and witty and one of the best plays on in London right now. It also has to be an excellent career move for Aidan.

The Lieutenant of Inishmore is at the Noel Coward theatre until 8 September.  Tickets are available from Delfont Mackintosh with £10 front row seats available on the day. Catch it if you can!

Related link:
Aidan Turner on Stage

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