Theatre Paradok’s Hangmen, written by Martin McDonagh and directed by Helen Wieland, begins in 1963 with the hanging of Hennessy who insists on his innocence until he dies, and ends in 1965 with an amusing, drunken, and ultimately murderous, pub lock-in. The horrific implications of criminality and wrongful execution at the core of the plot unfailingly catch the audience off-guard, said theatregoers having been buttered up with gracelessly blunt British humour. The majority of the first act gives the impression that Mr Mooney – the new man in the pub which the lion’s share of the play unfolds within – is a blundering and creepy, at turns sweet and “menacing” weirdo who enters as a distraction from and a foil for the pub-goers. An uncomfortably shameless, socially inept, soft spoken but intense, leather jacket wearer with disturbingly slicked back hair…or is he?
Mooney is immediately the butt of the pub-goers joke for his accent, his drink order, as well as all his other unidentifiable but nonetheless unnerving quirks. This teasing manipulates the audience’s conception of his character into being the attacked, awkward yet modern presence, alone in this backwater. The tension at the heart of the play is the difficulty of pinning down how much exactly is wrong with this slippery man; is Mooney a criminal pretending to be an oddball or an oddball pretending to be a criminal?
The stand out honest and core performances of the production were by Adam Wu as Harry Wade, Catriona Maclachlan as Alice, and Aisling Matthews as Shirley. Nikita Matthews also turned in an admirable performance as Mooney, an on-the-nose character who encourages unbelievability and stiffness. The blind drunk Greek chorus, made up of three bottom-of-the-barrel pub-obsessed Northerners, provides the cannon fodder for most of the comic relief. Sarah Moreman, the stage manager, provided a believable, useful and streamlined set.
Hangmen is too dark for how British it is, and too funny for how disturbing it is. The Martin McDonogh zeitgeist forbids me from not mentioning Hangmen’s resemblance to The Banshees of Inisherin, in cinemas now, and written and directed by McDonagh. The humour of both these self described tragi-comedies hinges on the clash between the drunken wisdom of the harmless idiot and a good-hearted but unbalanced and stubborn ego. Essentially, if you liked either, you won’t hate the other. The sporadic hilarity of the play rests on the characters’ perfectly British, incompetent approach to alcoholism, abuse, nihilism, and grammar.
Hangmen runs at the Wee Red Bar from the 14th to the 16th of November 2022 at 7pm
Image provided to The Student via Press Release.