Martin McDonagh’s play is a black satire on the Irish Troubles, with the catalyst a small black cat by the name of Wee Thomas. We first meet said cat when his corpse is brought in by dumb Davey, who may or may not have ridden over him on a bicycle, caving his head in.
Trouble is, Wee Thomas doesn’t belong to Donny, but to his son, Mad Padraic, who doesn’t pause at ripping out men’s toenails or shooting them point-blank in the eye with a crossbow, but who cries like a baby to hear his cat is “off his food”, a deception Donny and Davey concoct to communicate the news of his death gently.
Farcical situations abound, from a strung-up torture victim trying to get away on his hands, a young idealist (Davey’s sister, and a girl sweet on Padriac) who shoots out cows eyes from a distance with an airgun as a protest against the meat trade, and an unfortunate cat called Sir Roger who has the indignity of being covered in shoe polish to pass for the deceased moggie.
By the second half, guns are out, IRA ballads are sung, Padraic cuddles his cat while all around him, Donny and Davey are cutting up body parts, burning off fingerprints, and bashing out teeth. It’s a joke-filled stream about highly-strung Irish cats, the quality of IRA bombs, splinter groups from splinter groups (anyone else think of The Life of Brian), the nutritional value of Frosties, and grudge-holding.
I first saw this play at its RSC debut in 2001, but couldn’t remember much about it. It is absolutely hilarious and the ending is absolutely perfect, as Wee Thomas steals the show after all the carnage.
The characters are well-drawn, as Padraic wishes for a Free Ireland for men, women and cats, and appears to enjoy watching The House of Eliott, Mairead is a tough as a button but has an idealistic view of the cause, Davey becomes ever more hysterical, and Christy and his henchmen are stereotypical terrorist dolts. Even James, in that one torture scene, makes a mark as despite his drug dealing he seems to love his cat Dominic and his ringworm.
Starring Aidan Turner (Padraic), Denis Conway (Donny), Chris Walley (Davey), Charlie Murphy (Mairead), Brian Martin (James), Will Irvine (Christy), Julian Moore-Cook (Joey), and Daryl McCormack (Brendan). All are excellent, but especially Turner (West End debut), Walley (stage debut following graduation from RADA), and Murphy (who made such an impact in the last series of Peaky Blinders).
Michael Grandage directs with a sure hand, balancing the gore and the comic – although the production slows a bit with an interval in what is just a 100 minute show – but I would have welcomed less scenes set at the front of the stage behind the tree-decorated curtain. The play itself – written in 1993, but not staged for nine years, still has the power to shock and to intrigue, and it will most certainly make you laugh. Even as a cat lover I could see the funny side of the whole business.