By David Walters
“A bloody toast to the end of hanging.”
The last executions in the United Kingdom were in 1964 by swinging from the end of a rope. The practice was completely abolished in 1969. That historical fact is the launching pad for another great black comedy play by Martin McDonagh, Hangmen.
About this play, McDonagh said, “A black comedy is still a comedy, and a comedy is there to entertain and make people laugh. Black is just one way to go about it.”
It is one of his few plays with roots in something tangible. Unlike his other plays, it is not strictly a character-driven wildly told story, though that is all there as well: callus death, the farcical character turns, dark surprises knocking on the door asking you to smell their hair. This one is a little quieter than his other plays, more subdued and thought-provoking. First produced in 2015 it was a hit like so many of his other works. The remounting of this play, currently playing a 10-week engagement at Broadway’s Golden Theatre, is a great intro to McDonagh if you have never seen his work as it is brought to life by a tight ensemble of character actors at their very best, and a have to see if you love his other plays. I especially enjoyed the constantly shifting power struggle as each character applied their will to the situation.
As in all of his plays, guilt and innocence are front and center as a theme and the miscarriage of justice, the ending of the death penalty, the uses and abuses of vengeance, and the psychological impact of violence on its perpetrators are the basis for the play. This poetic rage of his is always a treat to observe as he wraps it in such a wonderfully comedic package.
The basic story is, UK’s last hangman (Harry), on the job for 25 years but still considered second best, due to the passage of the law is now out of this side job (he also owns a pub) but still emotionally competing with Pierrepoint, considered the number one hangman. A creepy menacing stranger with too many parallels to his last hanging saunters in and mentally manipulates his wife and daughter causing Harry to take matters into his own hands.
In line with Pinter, Shaffer, and Nichols, every corner is a dark turn in a McDonagh play and one never knows what’s going to come bouncing and swinging out of the shadows.
I don’t feel that Hangmen is his best play, but every one of them is absolutely worth the price of admission.
Hangmen by Martin McDonagh. Directed by Matthew Dunster
Starring: Alfie Allen (Mooney), David Threlfall (Harry), Tracie Bennett (Alice), Owen Campbell (Clegg), Jeremy Crutchley (Inspector Fry), Gaby French (Shirley), Josh Goulding (Hennessy), John Hodgkinson (Albert), Richard Hollis (Bill), John Horton (Arthur), Andy Nyman (Syd), and Ryan Pope (Charlie).
Now playing at Broadway’s Golden Theatre for a 10-week run.
Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes including one intermission
As always, this is just one man’s opinion in a world filled with them.