The play from the writer/director of In Bruges has a limited run in Dublin this month.
Martin McDonagh has a consistent vibe and tone throughout his work, and that is ever-present in Hangmen, which returns to Dublin for a limited run this month.
The darkly comic crime drama shares quite a bit of DNA with his cinematic output, be it the pub setting of The Banshees of Inisherin, the vague vigilantism of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, or the soul rot brought on by your death-dealing job of In Bruges.
Things kick off with a powerful prologue mostly between professional hangman Harry (Denis Conway) and criminal Hennessy (Stephen O’Leary), who desperately pleads his innocence even as the noose is placed around his neck and the floor gives way beneath him.
From there, we jump forward two years, to the day that capital punishment has been abolished in England, and a local journalist is trying to get a quote from Harry on the decision. Harry, now a pub owner and operator, is surrounded by patrons who idolise him for his now-former profession, as well as his put-upon wife Alice (Aisling O’Sullivan) and even-more-put-upon daughter Shirley (Olivia Byrne).
In the midst of this, a stranger appears in the pub. Mooney (Ian Lloyd Anderson) apparently only wants to rent the spare room in the pub, but he has definitely arrived with ulterior motives…
As expected from a McDonagh script, Hangmen is consistently very funny, often skirting the line of offensive, as the outdated opinions and values of the 1960s pop up every so often, from the more-than-casual sexism to conversational racism that is all nodded along with. Wisely, McDonagh never goes full Tarantino in dropping unnecessary racial slurs, but there is some ableist and homophobic language throughout, spotlighting both the narrow-minded views of these individuals all those decades back, but also highlighting their abrasiveness towards anyone they don’t know or can’t relate to outside their pint-pulling biodome.
The performances are uniformly excellent, including all of the supporting characters propping up Harry’s bar on a daily basis, but some special mentions must go to Anderson for his suavely menacing, sometimes skin-crawling turn as Mooney, while Byrne imbues Shirley with a fragile strength that feels it could teeter in any direction at any moment. Also, O’Sullivan as Alice comes across as Jennifer Saunders as Eddie Monsoon doing an impression of Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight. I know how that sounds, but trust me, it just works.
Guaranteed to send you off into the night debating the morales and ethics of the questions and answers he just made you ask and answer, McDonagh’s play is an absolute must-see for any fans of his more famous, Oscar-winning works.
Hangmen is being performed at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin until Saturday 4 November.
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