Chanelle Tourish speaks to Padraig Downey, producer of Martin McDonagh’s play The Cripple of Inishmaan, and some of its cast ahead of its opening night at Ductac next month.
Hot on the heels of its sell-out play The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Academy and Tony Award-winning playwright Martin McDonagh, Danú Theatre is back with the comedy The Cripple of Inishmaan, also written by McDonagh and opening Wednesday March 4 at Ductac, Mall of the Emirates.
Set in 1934 on the remote island of Inishmaan off the west coast of Ireland, home to a sparse collection of dysfunctional excitement-starved islanders, news filters through that an American film crew is visiting the neighbouring island of Inishmore. ‘Cripple’ Billy, the pride and woe of his aunts who have raised him, is determined to audition and have the chance to go to Hollywood. Having lived his limited life staring at cows, being cruelly taunted by the locals and dreaming of the feisty Helen, he is not going to let this potential opportunity slip by. But this bittersweet comedy has a devastating end, as is the way with anything McDonagh writes for stage or screen. ‘It’s really just a tale of an Irish community as well as a tale of humanity, love and tolerance. In life, all of us are cripples in some way. Cripple Billy might have a physical deformity, but all of us, each human being, has a deformity whether it’s physical or within us,’ says Padraig Downey, Danú Theatre founder and producer of the play.
Described as an ‘uproariously funny dark comedy’, the play has taken the world by storm, having recently finished its London and Broadway runs starring Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame, and receiving six Tony Award nominations. While Radcliffe is not part of the Dubai cast, the production has an equally talented international line-up. Eithne Treanor plays Aunt Eileen, Kathryn Pepper plays Mammy O’Dougal, Aileen Kelly plays Kate Osbourne and JP Smit takes on the role of Babbybobby Bennett. Fernando Alarcon Di Lisci, a 17-year-old student at Dubai American Academy, plays the title role and is keenly honing his Irish accent.
Originally from Mexico but raised globally, Di Lisci is relishing the opportunity to play a role recently graced by Radcliffe.
Much of the comedy in the play is provided by Johnny Pateen, the local town gossip who is played by Declan O’ Sullivan – also known locally as Paddyman. O’ Sullivan is one of the Middle East’s number one Irish entertainers and has a massive following in the UAE alone, playing regularly at venues across the Emirates. Acting on stage, however, is something new to him.
‘This will be my first performance as an actor. However, as an elderly man from Cork, Ireland recently pointed out to me, “There’s probably an actor inside every Irish person. You just can’t get away from our innate love of storytelling and the everyday drama of life.” So I’m hoping that innate love will surface to help me out,’ he says.
Sean Quigley takes on the role of director of The Cripple of Inishmaan with the assistance of Ciara O’ Donoghue. Both are no strangers to the stage, having starred in John B. Keane’s Big Maggie at Ductac in 2014.
Downey says, ‘There are nine main characters and I think what’s so special about them is that we can all identify one of them from our hometowns. You can really identify with Johnny Pateen, who is just the gossip but a larger than life character. Then there is the comic duo of the two aunts, who we can all identify with as our own aunts or mothers. Helen is the feisty one, who we all secretly envy because she has the gumption to say what we think. In all of the characters, there’s something there that speaks to us.’
New to Danú’s cast is Emirati Omar Hassan Khamis who will play a special cameo, having being inspired to act after seeing Danú’s production of Big Maggie. Downey says, ‘There’s such a huge similarity between Irish theatre and society and Emirati society, such as honouring tradition, respecting a woman’s honour and honouring your mother and father. There are some wonderful characters and lines in this play, and McDonagh has such a caustic wit. His work has such a huge impact on audiences around the world and it speaks to so many people, regardless of whether they have a connection with Ireland or not.’
McDonagh embraces the great Irish tradition of rich storytelling in The Cripple of Inishmaan, seamlessly weaving sentimentality and savagery with Gaelic charm.
Dhs55-85. The Cripple of Inishmaan. Ductac, Mall of the Emirates, Al Barsha. March 4 and 5, 7.30pm; March 6 and 7, 3pm; 7.30pm. www.ductac.org.