A savagely funny transfer of Martin McDonagh's hit comedy
This autumn the Royal Court premiered British-Irish playwright Martin McDonagh’s first play in London for over 10 years. Now transferred to the West End with most of the original cast in tact (but minus Reece Shearsmith), ‘Hangmen’ is a wry, late 1960s-set black comedy about a retired executioner, Harry Wade (played by David Morrissey and presumably named after real-life hangmen Harry Allen and Stephen Wade), that unfolds in the smoky lung of a Manchester pub run by this dour, upright local celebrity. There’s a lot of back-and-forth barroom banter, until an earlier execution – seen in the play’s brutal, arresting opening scene – starts echoing in the present.
Recommended: Read an interview with Martin McDonagh
We drop in on Harry on the day that hanging is abolished in 1965. A baby-faced newspaperman wants an interview. Any mention of ‘celebrity’ executioner Albert Pierrepoint gets Harry’s goat. The regulars slip into an easy hierarchy of knockabout male power. But matters turn uneasy when a cocky young southerner, Mooney (Johnny Flynn, the show’s star turn), starts to ingratiate himself at the pub. Unease turns to dread when Harry’s daughter, Shirley (Bronwyn James), goes missing and Harry’s former assistant, Syd (Andy Nyman, replacing Shearsmith and slightly dampening the comedy of the role) has suspicions about the culprit.
Savagely funny with hints of farce to sweeten the menace, ‘Hangmen’ lives and breathes its period (you might too: the smoke machine was in overdrive the night we attended), helped enormously by Anna Fleischle’s superb design. The writing feels ’60s in origins too, with echoes of Harold Pinter’s linguistic gamesmanship and Joe Orton’s gallows humour. For much of the past decade, McDonagh, after earlier successes like ‘The Cripple of Inishmaan’ and ‘The Lieutenant of Inishmore’, has put his mind to film, making ‘In Bruges’ and Seven Psychopaths’. There’s a hint of 1960s cinema in ‘Hangmen’ too. That partly comes via the northern kitchen-sink dramas of the decade, but it’s also there in how young Mooney nods to the discomforting modish charm of the likes of Malcolm McDowell: a sinister spotlight in the gloom.
For all its talk of hanging and abolition, this isn’t a political play. It’s more about the past catching up with the present, and about power and pride among men. A hangman might wield power over his victim – but there’s always someone round the corner with a bigger, longer rope if he’s not careful. It’s a vicious, funny play, stained with nicotine and nihilism.
'Hangmen' will screen in cinemas on March 3 as part of NT Live
Average User Rating
4.2 / 5
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wow a play that starts with a hanging on stage is always going to be a hard sell, but as the paly starts and you realise you are laughing at it you realise you are in for a funny night. Guaranteed laughs and brilliant cast and a wonderful script
Watched via a live cinema link up, this was an excellent opportunity to experience a live London theatre production in a 'local' outlet - fabulous! The play was engaging from the onset, building characters that were darkly comedic and menacing! Funny and provocative. David Morrissey and Johnny Flynn are a force to be reckoned with!
I really enjoyed and would highly recommend Hangmen. Fantastic quality production all round. Funny and serious and shocking and thrilling. A must see. Not long to go so catch it while you can!
Brilliantly entertaining black comedy from Martin McDonagh. Great performances all round and a very nifty set. Guaranteed to make you laugh as well as a little bit frightened.
I had high hopes for Hangmen, having heard good things from others who had already had a chance to see it, and being a fan of Martin McDonagh from his films Six Shooter, In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. Thankfully, the show didn't disappoint. The Wyndham's Theatre production is an excellently staged, super-dark black comedy (literally gallows humour), with a memorable array of characters and some of the most quotable, vaguely menacing dialogue you'll hear all year.
The staging is considered, full of detail, and well-executed in this dark ditty about the last days of hanging set in the North of England. I'm a Northerner myself and seeing the pub onstage made me homesick for a cheap pint and a game of pool - it's so lifelike, so crummily inviting that it takes you there. 'There' is a world of tough talking, no nonsense men and women who get by by out-quipping and out-doing one another with either a smile or a snarl. I was particularly interested to see David Morrissey, brilliant as he is on TV, and he didn't disappoint, but he didn't shine either - this is an ensemble piece and every actor on the stage holds their own: stoic, steadfast, deadpan. Amidst the jokes the drama creeps in little by little, like a vile fart, until it fills the room and the characters begin to crack under its pungency. It's a bleak play, and a serious one, which the final lines make no bones about lest we be in any doubt; but the delivery is slick and comic, like a slap of Brylcreem on a bald head. It's a funny, seriously entertaining show.
I am going with 4 rather than 5 stars , as this play was good - very good, but I seem to want to compare everything now to Jerusalem which perhaps needed 6 stars. Hangman takes you back in time, to a grotty northern pub where the Northerners are proud - even if the day job is hanging people ! The subject matter is heavy and the humour is dark, but this is so well written and perfumed. I felt uncomfortable laughing, but could not help myself. Thought-provoking quality theatre. So glad to see it making its way from The Royal Court to the West End.
This play is incredible. Set design is truly jaw dropping. David Morrissey is totally amazing, what a brilliant actor he is . As for Johnny Flynn his betrayal of the very creepy Mooney was outstanding. The play is waa very funny in parts but had the audience feeling ever so slightly scared as to what will happen next . You could feel the tension in the theatre. I totally loved this play and would happily sit through it again. Brilliant
I strongly suspect anyone middleaged or older will find this play very disappointing. It's extremely derivative of the Orton and Pinter approach from the 60s and 70s but not nearly so good, either in terms of wit or dramatic impact. Frankly, it comes across as a feeble pastiche.