The Lieutenant of Inishmore review: Aidan Turner brilliantly plays against type in pitch black comedy ★★★★

The West End revival of Martin McDonagh’s play is not for the faint hearted – but it’s a zinging satire on terrorism says Ben Dowell

Lieutenant if Inshore, PR still, BD

Ross Poldark has been reimagined as a psychopath, a bloodthirsty murderer and sadistic torturer whose only loving emotion is for his cat.

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This revival of Martin McDonagh’s pitch-black satire on Irish Republican terrorism certainly puts to bed any images of hay fields, scything and doing right by the people of Cornwall. It’s a brave – and in the end, smart – move for the Poldark star to take on the role.

Turner revels in the role of Padraig, the renegade INLA killer lured back to his native Inishmore by Republican enemies who know that by killing his beloved cat Wee Thomas they can have him where they want him – and blow his head off.

But of course, things don’t go quite to plan. The beauty of McDonagh’s play (written in 1994 and first produced in 2001, not long after the peace process kicked in) is that, however grisly the action, however farcical and absurd its violence, it’s a tightly plotted tour-de-force which allows our hero to give full vent to his comedic muscles in the role of mad bad Padraig. And he’s that and more – in fact, he’s a man so crazy even the IRA won’t have him. Even if he does want to create an Ireland “free for cats”.

We first see Turner’s Padraig torturing a drug dealer he has strung up in a warehouse with a breezy familiarity, conversing jovially with his poor victim as if nothing is amiss. When he goes back to Inishmore in the south, violence never seems very far away, especially with so many psychos, so many armaments and so many sentimentalised stories of brave rebels, and beloved cats. In McDonagh’s world, the reality of violence is so extreme is becomes absurd; it’s something the great Jacobean tragedians pulled off so well and this work compares well with them.

It is a taut production from director Michael Grandage on a beautifully realised set – a rural front room with tatty furniture, small sooty windows and thick whitewashed walls that accumulate steadily more red spatters of gore and brains.

The supporting cast is also excellent. Dennis Conway is brilliant as the befuddled Dad Donny, terrified of his only son, bemused at the way so much violence is meted out in his home because of a dead cat.

As Mairead, the local girl infatuated with Padraig, Charlie Murphy brings more aimless psychopathy to the stage; her moments of passion with Padraig are electric, demonstrating the awful erotic pull of violence.

If there’s one criticism of this play it’s that the tone never really lets up and not much light is left in. But in its main aim of showing up – and laughing at – the delusion of people like Padraig, who thinks that blowing up kids in chip shops makes them freedom fighters, then it hits its target with lethal precision.

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The Lieutenant of Inishmore is at the Noel Coward Theatre in London until 8th September