The Lieutenant of Inishmore (English/Japanese)

Archives: The Lieutenant of Inishmore

29 April 2006 (Sat), Broadway

Wild black comedy by Irish dramatist Martin McDonaugh, author of the memorable Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Pillowman. This show considerably ups the gruesome quotient with the most blood I’ve ever seen spilled on stage. An Irish terrorist discovers that his beloved cat has been run over, and utter mayhem breaks loose as he seeks his revenge. The show opens in a small home in the Irish countryside as the terrorist’s two partners dangle the dead animal and fling it across the stage, after which things get progressively gorier. (SPOILER ALERT) Those two, fearing that they will be mistaken by their friend for the murderers, find another cat and paint it black in an attempt to pass it off for the real thing. A female terrorist, adept at shooting the eyes off cows, tries to be accepted both as a terrorist and as the cat owner’s lover. Three IRA members threaten the cat owner with death for joining a splinter group. Skipping many grisly details here, they break in just as the cat owner has killed the false cat and is about to kill his mates. They take him to a ditch in order to shoot him for deserting the party, but get their eyes blown out by the sharp-shooting girl. They return to the house, at which point one mentions running over a cat. The enraged terrorist, thinking they mean his cat, blows their heads off (the blood flies fast and furious). The girl then discovers that this terrorist has in fact killed her cat, and blows his head off at close range in a real shocker – I jumped at that one. At the end, a cat wanders onto a cabinet – it is the terrorist’s cat, who has not been killed at all. The two remaining guys realize that all the wanton violence has been based on a case of mistaken identity.

The show purposely takes the situation to ludicrous extremes in order to highlight the senselessness of violence, especially (but by no means exclusively) of the IRA kind. It is a total cartoon that can hardly be taken at face value, but I think it works all the better for that. The characters show neither remorse nor pleasure in their butchery, just a matter-of-factness that left me completely awed. The dialogue was terrific, laced with plenty of hilarious lines throughout, and the audience was very responsive. The cast was uniformly excellent, with a particularly remarkable performance by the main terrorist (an Irish performer from the original Dublin cast). The Irish accents in general were pretty heavy, even among the American actors, and I suppose that background knowledge on the Irish conflict would be helpful. Also, all the bloodshed and carnage, vividly portrayed with buckets of blood splattering all over the murderers when they shoot (nice stage effect), will definitely limit the audience. I loved it and would strongly recommend it, but with a careful caveat. I’m interested now to see the Japanese version in Tokyo next month, called “Wee Thomas” after the cat’s name. Let’s see how far they take it.

Archives: ウイー・トーマス  (The Lieutenant of Inishmore)

6 June 2006 (Tue), Tokyo Globe

Japanese production of Martin McDonaugh’s black comedy. This was apparently the second time around for the show, which was first done in Tokyo two years earlier after its London debut. I assume the impetus for the revival was the success of the Off Broadway show, which also led to a Broadway production that is still running.

Having seen the Irish version in New York since his initial production, the Japanese director said that he didn’t think the deadpan style of the original would work with audiences here because of their general lack of knowledge regarding the IRA and the Irish “troubles”. The characters in NY remained very matter of fact even amidst the gushing blood and spectacular cruelties, and the contrast between this dry reaction and the carnage on stage lifted the show, very effectively, into theatre of the absurd. It’s only late in the show, specifically when the girl blasts out her boyfriend’s brains, that the reality of the violence was driven home.

For the Japanese production, the director said in an interview that he wanted the characters to be more “wet”, meaning evidently that they should behave more realistically towards the unfolding situation. Unfortunately, as the situation itself was hardly realistic, the effect was to throw everything off balance. This was painfully clear from the opening scene, where the two men are staring at the dead cat. In NY, they were hardly disturbed by the mangled animal itself, concerned only with the anger that this is likely to provoke in the cat’s owner. Their blithe lack of any normal feeling in the face of the blood and guts (vividly presented) immediately marked the cartoonish feel of the proceedings, especially when the guys picked the cat out of the box and flung it across the stage. This got a laugh out of the audience and instantly set the tone for the entire show. In contrast, the Japanese actors showed a revulsion that was more natural, picking up the bloodied body in a shocked and near deferential manner. There was no laughter whatsoever, and this signaled right away that the message was not getting through. Not knowing whether to take the proceedings seriously, the audience was confused later as it became clear that this was not your average family melodrama. The actor playing the father of Patrick (the cat owner) was particularly dire in mood; he needed some serious re-direction. But almost all were guilty more or less of the same fundamental flaw. The only exception was Patrick’s harried friend, whose whining portrayal was an interesting approach that could have worked if the rest of the cast had been in synch.

That being said, the blame in this case rests clearly on the director, who doesn’t seem to have thought this thing through to the end. For example, in the second scene, where Patrick is conducting a bizarre torture scene – he’s hung a guy upside down, tied him up and is threatening to cut off his nipples – the phone call from his father and ensuing conversation is an incongruous touch that should be very funny. But the point remained obscure to the audience until well into the scene, by which time it was too late to save it. Though partly due to the mannered acting, this was not helped by the general manner of the scene. Things did pick up somewhat in the third act, especially once the dismembered bodies were littering the floor. Also, I had heard that there would not be much blood in the show, which would have been a fatal move, but the director fortunately seems to have changed his mind after seeing the NY production. Still, the failure to establish the tone early on robbed the show of its effect.

One other comment: why are Japanese directors so prone to unnatural and unnecessary actions on stage? During the first scene, when Patrick’s friend brings the bike into the house, he rides it in a circle around and around the table – what on earth for? Nothing in the script necessitated this; the director simply seems to dislike stillness on the stage. When the three IRA men are shot offstage and stagger into the house, one of them jumps in through the window rather than simply walking through the door – why? Again, I assume the director is trying to make the scene “interesting”, but he’s just being distracting. A show has to be consistent in its absurdities, but this type of movement-for-the-sake-of-movement is the bane of Japanese theatre. It’s very irritating.

Whether this show can work in its over-the-top Irish/NY concept remains an open question, especially given the high ratio of females in Japanese audiences. But I hope that any future director at least sits down and thinks carefully about what the show is trying to say and how he/she can convey this best to viewers. The NY production was a terrific comment on the nature of violence and left a deep impression. As it stands in the Japanese incarnation, it’s just a twisted melodrama that’s over as soon as the final scene ends. Pity.


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