October 14, 2015
Hangmen at the Royal Court was the ‘must buy’ ticket after the five star reviews came careening in from across the press. Alas, the play was all sold out by the time journalists had gotten to see it, but we were lucky enough to have already secured our tickets to Martin McDonagh’s first new play in ten years.
It’s fair to say there was a palpable sense of expectation in the room as we took our seats. Most were presumably aware of the rave reviews and the fact the play is transferring to the Delfont Mackintosh Wyndham’s Theatre in the West End from 1st December. But why? What was it about McDonagh’s latest piece of writing that had so excited all those who had been lucky enough to see it?
The playwright has acknowledged before that he feels theatre is ‘the worst of all the art forms’, but makes a compelling case against his own beliefs, having written a number of superb Irish satires in the nineties - The Cripple of Inishmaan was a huge success on both the West End and Broadway during its revival with Daniel Radcliffe two years ago - and the creepy, haunting, slice of brilliance that is The Pillowman in 2003. The darkness that envelops Martin McDonagh’s writing is present here as soon as you sit down. The play is called Hangmen and an old, decaying prison cell is the setting for the opening scene where a young man is put to death before our eyes for a murder that he claims he did not commit. David Morrissey’s Harry Ward is less than sympathetic to the man’s plight, especially when he criticises all of northern England in one fell swoop.
Utilising an immaculately crafted and beautifully done set change (wonderfully designed by Anna Fleischle), the play heads into Harry’s pub two years later, a number of barflies mingling amidst the stale smoke as a journalist attempts to get a few quotes from the executioner on the day that hanging is abolished. Mooney, a young upstart from London also arrives to troll the landlord in way that calls to mind Harold Pinter’s characters and—to say any more would be rather giving the play away but Matthew Dunster's direction is spot on and there's more than a few visual flourishes to keep the audience entertained.
For fans of In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, Hangmen at the Royal Court is the perfect play. It’s a slight departure from his usual theatre pieces but it’s similarity to In Bruges is undeniable. The slightly sinister undercurrent, the witty repartee and supporting characters, razor sharp dialogue. Morrissey is on fine form as the arrogant Harry Ward whilst Reece Shearsmith is a delight as his slightly apprehensive former assistant. Shearsmith is unfortunately not staying with the cast after it transfers due to needing to work on a new series of the hilarious Inside No. 9 for the BBC, but rest assured the rest of the ensemble cast more than make up for it. Bronwyn James is astounding as Harry’s daughter Shirley whilst Johnny Flynn has an absolute blast as Mooney.
Hangmen is a superbly immersive piece of theatre that muses on the macabre notion of the death penalty and does it beautifully. There are also ruminations on fame and the perceived divide between northerners and southerners, particularly in the sixties (swinging sixties means something rather different here). All in all, this is a jet black comedy thriller that should be seen by all and will leave you suitably stunned.
To book tickets for Hangmen at the Delfont Mackintosh Wyndham's Theatre, please click here.
The playtext is currently available from the Royal Court website for just £3 here.
The Royal Court also announced their new season for 2016 on Monday. Why not have a browse?
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By Henry Fosdike