The Cripple of Inishmaan, Bear Pit Theatre, Stratford, until March 9.
It’s hard to say whether this dark comedy dishes out more laughs or shocks, but there’s certainly no lack of feeling on stage from what all boils down to a story of family and friendship.
Bear Pit Theatre takes us to Ireland, and the tale of intelligent and kind ‘Cripple,’ Billy Claven; orphaned as a baby and held back by his disabilities; his questions about his past (was his mother beautiful? Was he ever loved?); and his love/hate relationship with terrifying ‘Slippy’ Helen McCormick.
His story is simple as the island of Inishmaan is visited by Hollywood film crew and locals are lured in to the promise of stardom if they can turn their hand to acting. Refusing to let his disabilities stop him, a determined Billy sets off for America to finally make his own way as we see what he's left behind.
What unfolds is a tale of people, family, and of disability. For Billy, it's physical, but for the villagers it is manifested in flaws and a lifetime of sins. We see the lives of gossip Johnnypateenmike O'Dougal and his Mammy, both longing for her to drink herself to death; the torment of village idiot Bartley; and aggressive drunk, Babbybobby Bennett. But through all of it, and what is delivered so well on stage as each character is brought emotionally to life, is a view into a community. It’s all from a place of love that can’t keep us away.
Some really strong characters on stage – notably from quirky sisters, Eileen (Niki Baldwin) and Kate Osbourne (Viv Tomlinson). There's a real sense of hate and love and with a cast working so well together, what really shines throughout is the feeling of hope all the way to the end.
It’s certainly dark, but it’s also heart-warming, witty and thoroughly enjoyable.
Tickets from https://www.thebearpit.org.uk