Since filming on the Harry Potter series has drawn to a close, star Daniel Radcliffe has been attempting to distance himself from the boy wizard that skyrocketed him to fame, fortune and international renown. Not content to just take on anything, he has charted a career that focuses on different challenges, quality of work, and amazing people to work with. His latest project is starring in the Martin McDonagh’s dark Irish comedy, The Cripple of Inishmaan. Starring as the title character, Cripple Billy Claven, Radcliffe is able to stretch his acting chops playing the crippled West Irish orphan.
Set in the Aran islands, just off the coast of Galway, Cripple Billy, orphaned since birth, has longed for a way to escape the barren islands and now he just might have found a way. News spreads across the island, thanks to town gossip and ‘newsman’, Johnnypateenmike (Pat Shortt), that a Hollywood film was going to be made on the neighbouring island of Inishmore. Seeing this as is one opportunity to leave and a route all the way to Hollywood, he attempts to convince a small community of Islanders how much he wants to realise his dream. The coming of age story is loosely based on the real-life documentary The Man of Aran, made in the 1930s. This also takes place around 1934 and is filled with loveable Irish characters that show the strength, humour and endurance of these island people. This is the first major revival of the play since its premiere at the National Theatre in 1996.
While set in a world completely different to Potter, a number of the themes and morals remain the same. Billy is an orphan who constantly faces taunts and sneers both about the death of his parents and for being different. Finding out that what makes him different is also what makes him unique from those around him, he is whisked off to Hollywood and a new life where he could be celebrated for who he is. It wouldn’t be an Irish play without some fall and whereas Harry thrives in his Hogwarts environment, Billy fails as ultimately, he’s ‘a cripple who cannot act’. However, both stories focus on accepting who we are born as and embracing this as a strength.
Radcliffe is entertaining as Billy in his first role back on the West End since 2007’s Equus (though he did have the 11 month stint as J. Pierrepont Finch in Broadway’s 2011 revival of How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying). He is engaging and vital and draws the audience’s empathy without playing the victim. While Billy’s body lets him down, his mind is quick, sharp and witty and Radcliffe delivers all three with flair. He recently apologised for his “awful Irish accent” but to give him credit, it wasn’t the worst Irish accent I have ever heard. Yes, it’s not exactly right for that region and he kind of loses it completely in a monologue scene in Act 2, but on the whole, Radcliffe should be proud of his work.
The rest of the cast is delightful. Particular shout outs to Sarah Greene who plays the feisty, ball-breaking Helen McCormick and Conor MacNeill who is her much attacked sweetie and telescope obsessed brother Bartley. These two play off each other wonderfully and bring the sibling love/hate relationship to life perfectly.
The set, designed by Christopher Oram, is simple yet effective. Centred around a craggy circular structure above a revolving stage, the structure’s three sides provide the backdrop for each of the different scenes. This allows for quick, smooth scene transitions as well as giving a visual impression of the barrenness of the islands. Apart from the shelves of Billy’s adopted aunts’ convenience store, the sets are sparsely furnished, allowing the drama and characters to take centre stage.