A dark comic play of the highest order, The Cripple of the Inishmaan is based on a book of the same name written by Martin McDonagh. It links the play’s story to the actual filming of a certain documentary film on the same lines. The play is set in the year 1934 and is about a tiny community of Inishmaan residing at the Aran Islands, off the western coast of Ireland. The inhabitants of the island are pretty excited about the prospect of a Hollywood film crew arriving in the neighboring region of Inishmore for the purpose of filming a documentary on the lives of people living on the island.

Billy Claven, who is also commonly referred to as Cripple Billy sees it as an opportunity to escape the boredom, poverty and gossip of Inishmaan, and does all that he can to get a part in the documentary film. To everyone’s surprise, despite being a social outcast and an orphan, Billy lands a chance to play a role in the documentary film…. or as is believed by some.

The Run

The play Cripple of Inishmaan had its first-time run in December 1996 in the London’s Royal National Theater. In the year 1998, the play opened in the New York City for the first time at the Joseph Papp Public Theater, with Ruaidhri Conroy playing the lead role. The same year saw a different actor Frederick Koehler playing the role of Billy during the staging of the play in Los Angeles.

It was the Atlantic Theater Company which worked on the off-Broadway production of the play in collaboration with the Druid Theatre Company (based out of Galway in Ireland), with its opening held on December 21, 2008. Garry Hynes took the director’s seat and the cast featured the likes of Andrew Connolly, Kerry Condon, Patricia O’Connell, John C Vennema, Marie Mullen, Laurence Kinlan, Aaron Monaghan, David Pearse and Dearbhla Molloy.

Year 2013 saw the return of the play to the West End with Daniel Radcliffe playing the lead role of the Cripple Billy. The play was a sold-out and had Michael Grandage in the director’s seat. In the spring of 2014, the production of the play was transferred to the Broadway, and it was staged at the Cort Theatre for a brief period of time. The opening night was on April 20, 2014. The final Broadway performance of The Cripple of InishMaan happened on July 20, 2014.

Now, let’s tell you a bit about the play from the time when Daniel Radcliffe came on board.

Think of a dramatic hero who doesn’t stand a single chance of getting kissed, unless it was a blind girl! His adoptive aunt dismisses his looks by saying that you could see nicer rise on goats! Well, you wouldn’t think of Daniel Radcliffe playing such a character who appears quite contrary to his good looks. However, ever since he came on board this Martin McDonagh’s play with Michael Grandage at the helm of the directorial affairs, his popularity has reached an altogether different high and his talent has shone forth brilliantly! Daniel has emerged as an exceptional stage actor having an amazing gift of playing a social outsider.

He is the eponymous hero of the play and a disabled 17-year-old orphan going by the name Billy Claven. Dejected and constantly derided, Billy has been brought up by his aunts staying on the island of Inishmaan. However, the dullness of their everyday life gets suddenly disturbed (in a pleasant way!) when a Hollywood filmmaker comes visiting a neighboring island in the year 1934, for making a documentary film. This film is the Billy’s best chance of escaping the Inishmaan. He goes ahead and appears for a Hollywood screen test and eventually ends up taking the tragic comic journey of self-discovery.

The documentary film is more like a parody in the way it treats the remote location of Aran. There are several colorful characters such as the ill-tempered Helen who is secretly fantasized by Billy. Then there is Billy’s old mother who is given so much village gossip that she’s driven to the point of finishing herself by drinking stupendous quantities of Irish whiskey (poteen).

Despite the fact that the Cripple of Inishmaan has its share of trickery, it wittily exposes the several layers of myths that have been surrounding Ireland for a long time. Somehow, you get the feeling that when it comes to Ireland, moviemakers have always created their own kind of fantasyland depending on their needs. There is a very funny moment in the play when the villagers are having a fight at the screening of the documentary film and are despising the creator. Some even bring up the historic perception of injustice in Ireland when in a scene the anarchic Helen, who is treated as an oppressive English woman breaks several eggs on top of her brother’s head.

The play comes across as telling you things you may already know, but it’s Radcliffe who puts plenty of reality to it. He perfectly portrays Billy’s disability without ever overstating it for a moment, making effective use of his inflexible left leg and twisted left arm. Daniel also has a very special gift, which shines forth and is very critical for the various narrative surprises in the play. He seems both vulnerable and artful at the same time. You witness his wonderful shrewdness in the manner in which he hoodwinks a local boatman into taking him to the documentary film’s location. On the other hand, you can also see Radcliffe’s features glowing with innocent pleasure when he finally manages to get a date with Helen. He comes across as a character you’d love to care about and someone who is a very clever literary conceit.

The strong production and directorial ability of Michael Grandage is given further edge by the evocative stone-wall set designed by Christopher Oram. Add to that the amazing performances of Daniel Radcliffe as Billy Claven, Sarah Green in the role of pugnacious Helen, June Watson as the grumpy boozy nonagenarian and Gillian Hanna and Ingrid Craigie as Billy Claven’s caretakers, you get to know why it’s so difficult to separate Ireland from all the myths it’s surround by. However, in the end, the evening and the play belongs to Daniel Radcliffe who so successfully manages to escape from his Harry Potter image!

The characters of the play
– A crippled orphan named Billy Claven
– Billy’s adoptive aunt Kate Osbourne who can be often seen talking to stones in the play
– Kate’s sister and Billy’s other adoptive aunt Eileen Osbourne who can be seen hiding candies every now and then
– The town’s gossip guy Johnnypateenmike
– Johnny’s alcoholic mom aged 90, Mammy O’Dougal, who’s trying to drink until death
– Helen McCormick, Billy’s crush who’s also a very tough girl
– Bartley McCormick, the village’s idiot guy and brother of Helen
– Dr McSharry who’s the official doctor of the town
– Boatman Babbybobby Bennet whose wife had died of tuberculosis