Arts Theatre, Fri 4 Sep
This is a delightful play. Set in remote Ireland its focus is the narrow world view of inhabitants of a small village on the island of Inishmaan in the 1930s. It achieved some prominence recently courtesy of Danielle Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame playing the lead of Cripple Billy in a successful Broadway season. Now it’s our turn to enjoy it via this charming production from the Adelaide Repertory Theatre.
It begins in a local store with simple repetitive dialogue helping to pass the time of day for its two spinster storekeepers – Cripple Billy’s aunties – and is quite Pinteresque in the naked simplicity of the language. They are worried about the welfare of their adopted son and we learn that though they love him they, like the rest of the village, don’t see Billy as a fully rounded human being. He is just a cripple after all.
If you’re sensing that The Cripple Of Inishmaan may be a touch politically incorrect you’d be right. By today’s standards it is outrageously so, but it’s a revealing window into a time when it was accepted practice to belittle people who were different, to use them as the butt of cheap jokes, give them names that reminded them of their difference (eg Cripple Billy), and be quite brutally ignorant in their treatment of them.
It turns out, though, that Billy has more sensitivity and insight than the rest of the village put together and yearns to escape to a wider world. Eventually, slowly, those around him realise that Billy has a brain inside his disabled body, but it is a hard road for Billy en route to that point.
The small cast does a wonderful job of bringing this play to infectious life. Billy’s aunties (Sue Wylie and Tracey Walker) are just right as his doting naive carers. John Leigh Gray is excellent as the annoying, irrepressible, Leprechaun-like self-appointed village newsman – quirky, eccentric and even a bit lovable. Mary Rose Angley as the tough and beautiful Helen is a confronting character that does a convincing job of scaring the daylights out of everyone she talks to. Matt Houston’s tragic but triumphant Billy is a really fine performance. He skilfully treads the path between crippled idiot and intelligent dreamer; between both knowing his place and not wanting to cause offence to those who actually do love him, and holding on to his own visions of a better life. And just when you think he can’t take it anymore he bounces back to assert his dignity and teach his peers something about sensitivity and the wider world.
The quirks and curiosities of the Irish language from the Aran Islands is part of the charm of this play, as too are the inane small talk rituals that can characterise such remote communities. Trite obsessions and quirky eccentricities are the rule. But The Cripple Of Inishmaan shows that events can lead people out of their narrow worldviews, even if only temporarily. And sometimes flashes of wisdom and generosity can come from places where you least expect it.
Touching, endearing, uplifting. A great show delivered by a really well balanced cast.
The Cripple of Inishmaan continues at Arts Theatre at various times until Sat 12 Sep.
Book at Arts Theatre on 8212 5777 or at TryBooking.com. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.
Images courtesy of Norm Caddick.