Welcome to the Michael Grandage Company’s production of The Lieutenant of Inishmore by Martin McDonagh
MGC Artistic Director Michael Grandage directs a rare revival of Martin McDonagh’s critically acclaimed, brilliant satire on terrorism, The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Stage and screen actor Aidan Turner, best known for playing the title role in the BBC hit series Poldark, plays Mad Padraic, a terrorist deemed too violent to be a member of the IRA, in this hilarious, acute observation of violence in contemporary culture.
Who knocked Mad Padraic's cat over on a lonely road on the island of Inishmore and was it an accident? He'll want to know when he gets back from a stint of torture and chip-shop bombing in Northern Ireland: he loves that cat more than life itself.
This production follows Michael Grandage’s award-winning production of McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan in 2013, and Martin McDonagh’s Golden Globe and BAFTA Award winning film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
'MGC was very proud to produce a new West End production of Martin McDonagh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore in 2018. This brilliant satire is widely believed to be one of the finest comedies ever written about the banality of violence and in particular, terrorism. Set against the backdrop of the Irish troubles, we were able to excavate the highly theatrical juxtaposition of this very dark subject matter alongside what the one reviewer called “one of the madder, braver comedies in recent centuries”. This document offers an opportunity to go behind the scenes and understand the complexities (mainly technical) surrounding the mounting of a rare, new production.' Michael Grandage, Artistic Director, MGC
On the remote island of Inishmore, off the west coast of Ireland, the tentative peace process on the mainland seems a long way off… That is until wayward son ‘Mad’ Padraic returns home. Considered too extreme for the Irish Republican Army, he’s taken leave from his newly-formed splinter group to visit his beloved cat, Wee Thomas, who’s seriously injured – the apparent victim of a hit-and-run.
As Padraic’s dad, Donny, in whose care Wee Thomas was left, desperately tries to cover up the accident for fear of his son’s well-known wrath, he blackmails his young neighbour, Davey, into helping him by accusing him of being responsible.
But Padraic’s not the only person to have recently returned to Inishmore. His former colleagues from the Irish National Liberation Army have some differences they’d like to discuss with him…
Will Padraic’s splinter group ultimately prove victorious? Perhaps with the aid of its newest recruit, Davey’s younger sister, Mairead. But can love transcend politics and personal tragedy, especially when adored pets are involved?
Director - Michael Grandage
Set & Costume Designer - Christopher Oram
Lighting Designer - Neil Austin
Sound Designer - Adam Cork
Wig and Hair Designer - Richard Mawbey
Casting Director - Anne McNulty
Associate Director - Lynette Linton
Associate Designer - Simon Wells
Associate Casting Director - Ruth O'Dowd
Production Manager - Patrick Molony
Costume Supervisor - Mary Charlton
Props Supervisor - Celia Strainge
Fight Director - Kate Waters
Company & Stage Manager - Lorna Cobbold
Deputy Stage Manager - Helen Smith
Assistant Stage Manager - Christopher Carr
Assistant Stage Manager - Ashley Mochan
Head of Wardrobe - Tim Gradwell
Deputy Head of Wardrobe - Ben Enathally
Head of Wigs, Hair and Makeup - Emily Leonard
Sound Operator - Laura Gingell
Martin McDonagh is an award-winning writer and director. His plays include: The Beauty Queen of Leenane, A Skull in Connemara, The Lonesome West, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, The Cripple of Inishmaan, The Pillowman, A Behanding in Spokane, Hangmen and the upcoming A Very Very Very Dark Matter. As a Writer and Director for film his credits include: Seven Psychopaths, In Bruges, Six Shooter and most recently Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
The Lieutenant of Inishmore by Martin McDonagh (Bloomsbury, 2018)
Donny’s son, also known as ‘Mad Padraic’ because of his volatile and violent nature, he was rejected by the IRA for being too extreme and is thinking about breaking away from the INLA for not being extreme enough. His only friend in the world is his beloved cat of fifteen years, Wee Thomas.
A solitary man who enjoys his own company and a drink of poteen. Glad to live alone, free of his irritating mam and especially his wayward son, Padraic.
Northern Irish… sporting an eyepatch
A member of the INLA and former fellow patriot of Padraic, Christy blames him for losing his eye. He’s come to Inishmore on a mission, if only he can unite his squabbling comrades.
A minor drug-dealer selling marijuana to students at the polytechnic, his illegal activities have brought him to the attention of the paramilitaries.
Northern Irish accent
Also a member of the INLA and Christy’s right-hand man, when he’s not correcting him about the sources of his quotes.
Northern Irish accent
Another member of the INLA and Brendan’s brother. He doesn’t agree with his comrades’ current tactics, instigated by Christy, with its focus on cruelty to cats.
A girl of sixteen or so, slim, pretty, with close-cropped hair, army trousers, white T-shirt, sunglasses.
Davey’s sister, a dead shot with an air-rifle at sixty yards having blinded many local cows, she longs to join the INLA and, in particular, Padraic. Mairead’s only greater love is her own cat, Sir Roger.
A well-meaning young man who often finds his good nature abused. He loves his bike, Motorhead and, more than anything, his mam.
Associate Director Lynette Linton provides a week-by-week summary of rehearsals for The Lieutenant of Inishmore
Our first week begins with a ‘Meet and Greet’ where the full company get together to meet and connect before we dive into the play. There is a lovely nervous excitement bubbling throughout the room as we munch on pastries and drink our tea. We are also joined by author Martin McDonagh on the first day.
After we go around the room and introduce ourselves, a smaller group sit around the table and do a readthrough, so we can hear the script out loud together for the first time. It’s great to hear the words spoken by our incredible actors and I can’t wait to see how the scenes will play out over the coming weeks.
That same afternoon Stage Management mark out the room with our stage dimensions. We then begin our first pass through the nine scenes of the play, mapping it out on the floor and deciding on some loose blocking. We ask questions and begin to dissect each scene. It’s a very collaborative room and so exciting to see these characters come alive from the page.
We also spend time thinking about what furniture and fittings we will need in our space to make the play as effective as possible. There are many technical elements to think about in this show, including cats, blood and guns – and that's only a few of them.
By the end of the week we have made it all the way through the play and spend our last morning with Fight Director Kate Waters (‘Kombat Kate’) as she takes us through the necessary safety precautions of some of the fight sequences, as well as making them look realistic. It's a great way to finish an exciting week.
I can't wait to start from Scene One again on Monday and see what discoveries we make as we delve deeper into Padraic's world.
Time is flying! How have we reached the end of week two already? We start on Monday at the top of the play and slowly work our way through it, adding more detail as we go. Michael asks the actors questions as we discover the different layers of these characters and really work out who they are.
We’re also joined this week by our understudies and I begin separate understudy rehearsals with a readthrough of the play so we can hear our actors’ voices in their various roles. In our company, members of the original cast are also understudies, so some have at least two roles to learn. Our understudy company members have up to four roles to learn.
In the main rehearsals with Michael we go through the whole play a second time with new discoveries made each time, the characters becoming more rounded and three-dimensional. There is still much more to find but I love this part of the process because the detail begins to emerge.
Towards the end of the week we have a morning focused on, what we call in our schedule, a ‘Gun Workshop’. This is where we’re visited by the show's Armourer, Mark Shelley, who tells us some interesting facts about guns and then speaks to each actor in turn about how their character would hold a gun, or what type of gun they might use, in 1993. Mark is also in charge of the show’s special-effects so we take him through some of the blocking we’ve already devised and he makes suggestions as to how we can get the best results with what is available. Our Fight Director, Kate Waters, also joins us so it’s a wonderful morning of collaboration and discovery.
This week we also spend time getting to know each other. The whole cast is from Ireland so Michael asks them to tell us a little bit about where they’re from, letting us see it by placing a pin on a map. We soon realise that our company comes from all over Ireland. We discuss the difference in accents and Michael asks for a fact from each of them. It’s a really lovely moment and feels like it cements the already strong bond the company is forming with each other.
We end the week with a day of understudy rehearsals where we mark-out the blocking for the whole show so that when we come back together we can layer detail on top. I can’t wait to add this in the coming weeks.
Week three is already upon us – I can hardly believe it. After spending time making our way through the script technically, as well as working out the blocking, this is the week we begin to uncover more detail in the scenes, with a particular focus on character and objectives.
Michael and the actors begin to find layers that we hadn’t seen before and we push all the decisions that we’ve previously made even further as we’re still in a place where we can make suggestions in the room. We spend the week unpicking the text, and because the actors are off book and even more confident with their lines we’re able to zoom in on individual words and sections of scenes to get an extra level of detail. This is particularly useful when thinking about the wit, intelligence and speed that links the thoughts of these characters. Michael watches what’s been put together and then asks the cast key questions about the characters and text to cement the work.
He also requests that the actors commit to and play everything as big as possible, in order for us to fully explore the scenes, because we can always pull it back if necessary. This method of working means we uncover subtleties we may never have found otherwise. We end up getting through the whole play in two days and make many new discoveries.
We spend the remaining two days of the week passing through the play again. It’s so interesting to see how much it has developed over a night or two – it’s as if the notes become embodied once they are able to filter for a few days. It’s a great process to witness, almost a subconscious reaction, in which the hard work truly pays off. We leave for the weekend feeling happy and confident about the place we’re in.
We start the fourth week’s rehearsals in a similar way to how we ended week three - working through each scene in detail and layering on top. This week, though, we have our wonderful writer, Martin McDonagh, back in the room with us. He’s here to look at what we’ve done so far and also to answer any questions that have arisen during rehearsals.
It’s great to have Martin’s insight and he raises his own questions too. He joins us at the beginning of the week and we look at a few things differently as he offers a new perspective on some of our character choices. We end Monday with more things to uncover over the course of the week, Martin reminding us all of the stakes in the play - each life can find itself in danger within seconds and he encourages us to play that further in our version of the play. It’s helpful to be reminded of that at this stage.
Later on in the week we have a ‘sound day’ where our Sound Designer, Adam Cork, spends the day with us going through all the sound cues in the play, including the cat sounds and gunshots. We go through each one individually to make sure it is in the right place for the actors. It’s such a fun rehearsal as people must learn the rhythm for their bullets to make each one work. This is crucial, particularly in Scene Eight where there is so much gunfire. It’s great to introduce this element into the rehearsal room now as everything feels like it’s really starting to come alive.
We end the week with what we call a ‘put together’ – the first time we run all the scenes back-to-back. We don’t call it a ‘run’ as we’re not at that stage yet. It is wonderful to see it all in one go, and watching this Michael decides we should put in an interval. It’s also clear from the put together how much joy is important in this play, due to its satirical nature, and also how easy it is to get this off-balance. We end the week discussing this, looking forward to making sure we find this balance next week.
This was our last week in the rehearsal room - it always surprises me how quickly this comes about. You think you have all the time in the world and then, suddenly, rehearsals are over. But we’re ready. Ready to share this show with an audience, ready to see what their reaction does to it, particularly as it’s a comedy. In a way we’re waiting to be informed by them.
Before that we have runthroughs left in the rehearsal room. There are three planned for this week and after spending Monday working through each scene in fine detail it’s time to have our first proper runthrough on Tuesday morning. It goes well and Michael is happy. I find myself laughing at moments I have seen many times before as we keep finding something new in them, always a good sign.
We welcome new people into the room with each runthrough, each one something to do with the show - from costume to lighting to press and marketing. It’s so interesting to hear where they laugh, where they don’t, and how each audience differs. It’s going to be an incredible experience once we get this show in front of 900 people.
Alongside the runthroughs, we also devote an afternoon to a ‘blood rehearsal’. We get to experience some of the squibs first hand, as well as literally covering some of the characters in blood. It’s an extraordinary sight and makes us even more excited about what this show is going to look like once we put it all together at the Noël Coward Theatre.
We end the week in a great place, and after some encouraging words from Michael we’re all buzzing to get into the theatre and add real audiences to our show… Bring on Tech Week!
We are now in ‘Tech Week’. How quickly that has come about, and what a journey it has been. It feels great to be in the theatre as a company because we feel we are ready for this - ready for lights, sound and, most importantly, an audience.
For our first technical rehearsal we begin to work slowly through the play, stopping and starting to adjust sound levels and lighting states. It’s fascinating to watch our Sound Designer, Adam Cork, and Lighting Designer, Neil Austin, at work. They’re wonderful and offer Michael many ideas to think about. It’s always a special moment when you see the scenes lit on stage for the first time.
Tech is a process that lasts over three days. It’s been known from the start what a technically heavy show this is, but you really see it during this process. Along with the lights and sound, we have a front cloth, a huge amount of props, live cats and lots of blood. It’s fair to say it’s an interesting, exciting and highly technical few days. It’s also wonderful to see the actors adjust to their new home. The Noel Coward Theatre is beautiful and we will be performing to about 900 people every night. It will be a big change from a handful of people in the rehearsal room.
After three days of purely technical rehearsals, we perform a dress rehearsal to an invited audience of about 140 students to get a taste of what the next few nights will be like. It’s a real eye-opener for the company and we spend the following days discussing what we’ve learnt while preparing for our first preview in front of a full paying audience.
Our first preview is terrific, so much so that we even get a standing ovation! The cast are happy and Michael and the Creative Team are very pleased. It’s great to know that we have a really thrilling and funny show.
Education Associate Dominic Francis provides an insight into the cast and Creative Team’s rehearsal process for The Lieutenant of Inishmore
It’s the first day of rehearsals for MGC’s production of The Lieutenant of Inishmore by Martin McDonagh and for this week only the cast and Creative Team are based in the rehearsal rooms at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre in West London. Next week they’ll move across town to the more familiar Jerwood Space for the remainder of the five weeks’ rehearsals.
Director Michael Grandage welcomes everyone and the team briefly introduces themselves and their part in the production. Everyone then gathers around the model-box while designer Christopher Oram outlines the design concept. He explains that the set is based on a composite of various remote Irish cottages. There’s a screen at the front depicting an aerial view of the island (Inishmore), the fields divided by stone walls and lanes.
Michael clarifies that the model-box is built to 1:25 scale, which he says can often confuse people: ‘Some actors are always surprised when they walk on set. They say, “I didn’t think it would be like this”. Well, it’ll be exactly like this only twenty-five times bigger!’
Briefly outlining the plan for the next couple of weeks’ work, Michael explains that the Armourer, Mark Shelley, will be in rehearsals from the start of week two to show the cast how to hold and handle the various guns. At the end of the ‘Meet and Greet’, while the wider Creative Team leave, Michael, Christopher and author Martin McDonagh stand in front of the model-box discussing the practicalities of staging the play. Costume Supervisor Mary Charlton takes advantage of this time to start taking the actors’ measurements.
Once the wider team have left, Michael and the cast sit around a large table in the centre of the room while Stage Management and other members of the team, including Composer and Sound Designer Adam Cork, sit on chairs lining the walls ready to listen to the readthrough. Michael wants to start with this before discussing the play so ‘the chat’ can come out of the readthrough. He reassures the actors: ‘It’s not a test. Throw yourselves at it. Keep it alive, energised.’ Before they begin, Michael clarifies how to say the title: ‘The Lew-tenant of Inishmore’, as in the American pronunciation.
Following the readthrough there is a short break and when the cast reconvene Michael congratulates them: ‘A very, very good reading. As a collective insight it was very good.’ It was noted that Charlie Murphy, playing Mairead, was reading from a published version of the play, which contains cuts that Martin wants to keep. He also makes several new revisions to the text – for example, Padraic’s age is adjusted from 21 to 25. Michael reflects on the setting of the play in terms of the date, circa 1993. It’s agreed that it’s important that the play’s set before the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. ‘One general note,’ adds Martin, ‘if there’s a comma, ignore it. Commas aren’t pauses. Just try and get to the full-stop at the end.’
‘To my ear the accents sounded right,’ says Michael turning to Martin. He agrees, then refers to the song ‘The Patriot Game’, sung by Mairead and Padraic, commenting he has a recording of an older version of the song, which he prefers, that he’ll send to the actors. Adam, who has a different version of the song, also asks for this.
Acknowledging Martin’s presence, Michael says: ‘It’s a rare opportunity to have the writer in the room.’ He invites the cast to join him in asking Martin questions about the play, in particular about their characters. Martin begins by explaining the context in which the play was written. It was 1994 and at that stage he hadn’t had anything performed. The National Theatre gave him a writer’s residency at the NT Studio and he recalls sitting in a room wondering what he’d write about: ‘I had a vague idea of a really tough gangster who had a cat. I wanted to write about “The Troubles”. I was brought up a Republican and a Catholic. I thought I’d look at the other side. It was my angriest thing. It’s a play that comes from anger. It can’t be played for laughs. When the guns go up it’s always serious – you could die at any moment.’
Reflecting on this, Michael observes: ‘Tonally we don’t think of it as a farce.’ He considers the nature of rehearsing plays that have comic elements, however dark: ‘In the rehearsal room we can only do what we can – we won’t have an audience laughing.’
They then consider the practical details of staging the play, which contains animals and firearms. For the majority of the time, the cat on stage is a fake cat with an animatronic tail. The only real cat, reveals Michael, appears at the end. From his experience of previous productions of the play, Martin comments: ‘The cat being a little bit hungry means it stays near the food.’ This prevents if from wandering about the stage. ‘Unless we’ve got a diva cat!’ quips Michael.
‘How do the guns work with everything going off?’ asks Aidan Turner, who plays Padraic. Michael takes the firearms and shootings very seriously and refers to the fact that gun control on stage has changed in recent years. He didn’t want to introduce the guns this week as the actors have enough to think about, which is why the Armourer will be in rehearsals from the start of next week.
Thinking about the significant use of weapons within the piece, Michael comments: ‘I’m keen that this is a message we’re talking about – a play that deals with the banality of violence.’ Martin refers to ‘pacifist rage’ and adds: ‘There isn’t a play that ever killed anyone. I wanted to write a play like a bomb – it should make people angry.’
The cast continue to ask questions about their characters. Denis Conway, who plays Donny, asks: ‘Is Donny as stupid as Davey?’ Martin is unequivocal in his response: ‘There’s no one stupid in the play. No one ever thinks of themselves as stupid, but they can think of themselves as superior.’ Referring to the moment when Donny asks Davey whether he should remove an incriminating name-collar from a dead cat’s neck, Martin suggests the question is a genuine one – ‘It’s drunken innocence.’ Daryl McCormack, who plays Brendan, is keen to know how politicized the characters are. Michael and the actors clearly welcome the opportunity to have such discussions with Martin present. ‘The challenging thing is there’ll be a hundred and fifty questions each day!’ says Michael. Martin reassures them that he’ll be on e-mail and can continue a conversation that way.
Michael outlines the first week’s work: ‘I’m going to work through the play quickly, in a sketch-like way, to get through everything by Thursday. I’m not a fan of table work because I think it makes it difficult to then stand up. Being physical and talking about the play happens in tandem. If we do this broad brushstroke technique without too many questions you go away for the first weekend with a broad shape.’ Looking further ahead, he says: ‘It all comes together in the fifth week.’ In terms of the daily routine, Michael explains: ‘I tend to only work on the scenes with the actors in them in the room. This can make call-times more challenging.’
In terms of the actors’ individual creative processes and their imaginative exploration of their characters, Michael comments: ‘Back-story never killed anyone, and you can always cut back-story if it doesn’t work.’ He’s clear about the respective roles within the process, pointing to Martin: ‘He’s the creative artist and we’re (the cast and Creative Team) the interpreters. But we’re an interpretative artist with a huge creative brief.’
Breaking for lunch, Michael says: ‘We’ll have a little more chat after lunch and then we’ll start sketching.’ While the cast is absent from the rehearsal room for an hour, Stage Management completes the mark-up in the space.
I rejoin rehearsals for an afternoon session at the start of the second week, in which Michael and the cast are focusing on scenes Two and Three. There are a number of interesting props in the room, including a corpse and two dead cats. Props Supervisor, Celia Strainge, is using swatches to check actors’ skin tones in order to prepare realistic dismembered limbs.
Scaffolding has been erected at the far end of the space to enable the team to suspend actor Brian Martin, playing James, in a harness for Scene Two, during which Padraic tortures him. The Aerial Engineer and his colleague, who are responsible for the scaffolding and harness, talk Brian, his understudy Matthew Blaney and Stage Management through all the health and safety aspects of the equipment. Company Stage Manager Lorna Cobbold asks lots of questions about where the harness should be positioned in order to distribute the actor’s weight and Brian asks if it can be more evenly distributed on his hips. The team makes adjustments accordingly.
In terms of suspending Brian, Michael prefers a height that still allows him to touch the floor with his fingertips. The team also has to consider the best position from which Padraic can cut James’ nipple. The actor is actually lifted by a motor in the wings, operated by Stage Management, who then move him into position across the stage. The mechanism itself won’t be visible, it will be above the border of the stage. What connects this mechanism to the actor is entirely the Creative Team’s decision – for example, it could be chain, rope, electrical flex, etc.
For today they’re going to rehearse the scene with Brian sitting in a chair, his hands behind his back. Michael says they’ll return to the scene in just over a week’s time and suggests the Aerial Engineer return then to supervise. He proposes they gradually increase the amount of time the actor is suspended upside down.
Focusing on the scene itself, Michael says of Padraic: ‘We’ve definitely got a more lenient person from the one we meet later in the play.’ He reflects on James’ response to Padraic’s interrogation, which despite his predicament is direct and often derisory. ‘There’s no version of that you can dress up,’ Michael says to Brian, ‘it’s facetious so let him have it.’
Both actors are already off book and only occasionally need a prompt from Stage Management. Having run the scene once, Michael comments: ‘Very good on all of that.’ He wonders whether Padraic should be sitting as this is the first time we meet the title-character? Ultimately he decides it’s better for him to be standing close to James, ready to torture him: ‘It’ll heighten the nastiness for us.’
Michael reflects on the encounter as a whole: ‘Everything in this scene is about finding the right tone. You’re not doing this, but obviously it can’t be about shouting at one another. This is also beyond absurdist humour – “Whichever’s your favourite nipple I won’t be touching that fella at all…’ – so we can’t lose that. As with all violence, it’s incredibly graphic for us.’
He then goes back over the scene, picking out different moments. ‘Be careful you don’t lose that line – “You’ll have had both by the end of the day” – in losing your train of thought,’ he says to Aidan. Michael focuses specifically on these lines: ‘Now, just for clarity, that – about nipples – wasn’t the train of thought you’ve lost?’ He and Aidan conclude that the ‘train of thought’ refers to Padraic’s ‘next item on the agenda’ for torturing James. ‘ “So be picking your nipple…” is the intensification of the focus,’ adds Michael.
He concentrates on James’ reference to his cat, which ultimately contributes to his reprieve from Padraic’s torturing. Michael questions Padraic’s gullibility, asking Aidan: ‘Do you get suspicious before your first, “What’s his name?” or after? So I put my mind at rest, can we try a version where you’re suspicious from, “How do you know so much about ringworm?” .’ Michael wants to ensure he and the actors have fully understood this moment: ‘I’m trying to get into Martin’s head here.’ Regarding Padraic’s suspicions about James and his cat, Michael reflects to Aidan: ‘I don’t think Padraic wants to explore that too much.’ Of James’ eventual escape, Michael thinks it’s important to maintain the tension: ‘If he’s able to come fantastically out of his dilemma it questions whether the dilemma was ever really there.’
He’s pleased with the overall shape of the scene. ‘The only alteration I’d suggest is just keeping a physical focus,’ Michael says to Aidan, ‘don’t wander too much.’ As an example, he cites Padraic walking behind James’ back when talking about what he plans to do to him next - ‘It slightly dilutes it.’ Michael reflects on the challenge of this particular scene: ‘We have to do two things – make the audience go “Urgh!” and make them laugh at the same time, and that’s what this play does brilliantly.’
In terms of pacing the actors through rehearsals, Michael’s conscious that they’re only at the start of the second week of five: ‘I don’t want to rehearse that scene too much because you’re hitting something just right. Whatever you’re accessing is spot on.’ He suggests another runthrough in order to consolidate the notes from today’s session: ‘Let’s do it once more because the next time we do it will be next Tuesday.’
They run the scene again, following which Michael says: ‘Great. So, questions… Have either of you got any about the road map of this scene? I can’t see any from where I’m sitting.’ There’s a discussion about the practical details – for example, how many guns does Padraic use when shooting his mobile phone and where do they come from? His holster?
Michael thinks the scene is developing well, enjoying Padraic’s digression about James’ toenails and the medical attention he should seek: ‘I really loved that. You took me right through the speech.’ He offers some specific notes: ‘Aidan, just try staying over there when you take the telephone call. There’s something rather funny about you hanging over James’ nipple while you answer the call from your dad. I always see the phone call as the halfway point of the scene.’ And later: ‘Make sure you introduce the idea of a “splinter group”.’
He notes a change in tone towards the end of the scene: ‘There’s a strange coda to this scene - there’s suddenly a lot of care from Padraic at the end. The care will come out of cutting James down, it’ll take a while. We actually get something quite different here from what’s set up, in terms of what we hear about Padraic – that he’s too mad to be in the IRA. Here he’s actually rather concerned about James.’
Bringing the session to a close, Michael concludes: ‘The whole thing about the tone of this scene is how we balance the threat of violence with actual violence.’ He turns to Brian: ‘When you really analyse the scene, it’s a man saying, “Fuck you!” most of the time.’ He looks ahead to next week’s rehearsals and returning to this scene, suggesting to Stage Management: ‘Next time we’ll add a shirt and rucksack.’ To the actors, Michael says: ‘One thing you could both profitably do is get absolutely word perfect for week three.’
After a short break rehearsals continue, now focused on Scene Three. Chris Walley, Charlie Murphy and Will Irvine – playing Davey, Mairead and Christy respectively – join Michael in the room. They start by walking through the short fight near the beginning of the scene, in which Davey pushes Mairead to the ground. This has previously been set by Fight Director Kate Waters and Michael praises Kate on her approach to her work, commenting that in the past many Fight Directors often didn’t read the script so the fight didn’t come organically out of the world of the play.
He works through the fight methodically, especially Mairead’s retaliation when she begins stamping on Davey’s beloved bicycle, Michael observing: ‘This is a play full of people who love strange things – Padraic his cat, Davey his bike.’ He asks Charlie: ‘How can you bang on the bike and let Chris get his line in? It’s a technical note, which we should rehearse now.’ He sets Mairead’s stomps on the bike to ensure we hear all of Davey’s lines. ‘You need to work together to build the fight incrementally,’ Michael says to the two actors. ‘Charlie, you have to give Chris permission to push you.’ He suggests the push creates a dividing line within the scene.
Running the scene from the top, Michael says to Charlie: ‘I’d come on a bit earlier. I’m just trying to work out what the value of that was as an off-stage line (“In the cheek, is it? …That was the object, to have your fecking eye out!”). I’m a big fan of the entrance, in terms of actually having one!’ He encourages both actors to take their time with the lines: ‘Charlie, make sure you give some air to, “The news it was on”. Don’t rush it.’ To Chris he says: ‘For half a nanosecond you think it could just possibly have been on the news.’ Michael refers to ‘levels of incredulity and bare-faced lies’ within the play.
Critically he encourages both actors to connect with one another: ‘Just make sure the two of you fully engage in a full-on conversation about cows. Let each thing come out of the other. As you hear a point of view, you both take on a different point of view. It’s not about shouting each other down. It’s about articulating an argument. Just make sure the very last section of that doesn’t get lost.’
Charlie wonders why Mairead seems so embarrassed about shooting cows’ eyes – ‘Is it because it’s all she’s known for?’ Michael encourages her to embrace the points Mairead’s making: ‘There’s a mini triumph in your thought-process there, “For who would want to buy a blind cow?” Really pin him down on that, really get behind your argument. Make sure you get that.’
Of Davey’s account of helping Donny, Michael says to Chris: ‘Remember, you’re explaining something there. Make sure you’re taking us through it.’ He focuses on a specific line (‘He’s got me roaming the country to find a black cat identical to his Wee Thomas…’): ‘Now that’s new information for us, so we need help with that. We need a little spin on that. Just say it one more time and explain it. If you explain it to her, we’ll get it.’
Chris, Charlie and Will run the scene again, incorporating Michael’s notes. ‘That was really good,’ he comments afterwards, ‘you landed all of those things.’ He focuses on the blocking, from crossing the stage - ‘Let’s find that movement… It might not be the right movement, but let’s find it’ – to small details: ‘So you don’t upstage yourself there, push his face downstage on that line.’ Following a run through, Michael might comment: ‘The only move I didn’t understand…’ And then give an example of a piece of blocking that seemed false.
Michael encourages the actors to find the right pace - ‘Don’t get ahead of yourself’ - and the detail within the text: ‘It just helps us to pick that out.’ He highlights the need to keep the storytelling clear, using Mairead’s reference to her cat, Sir Roger, as an example (‘Look at my Sir Roger. Sir Roger has a different personality to any cat…’): ‘Just in terms of your responsibility to the exposition of this play, make sure you introduce this character.’ He asks Chris: ‘Can you try and come over Mairead’s line, rather than under it, with your, “He’s a snooty bitch…” so you top her.’
Bringing the afternoon’s rehearsal to a close, Michael congratulates the actors: ‘Well done. You’re in a very good place with all of that.’ He reflects on Scene Three: ‘One general note for this scene is you’d be surprised how much information is in it. There’s a danger that this scene could simply happen and we think it’s just about a girl kicking a boy’s bike and a man walking past, but there are several important plot-points in it. Martin McDonagh does that brilliantly. He gives exposition straight from character. He says it once clearly and he trusts us to get it.’ Michael outlines the challenge for the actors: ‘You have to be true to character and find your way into introducing all those bits of information. You have to think, “What information do the audience need to get from this scene?” Really take some breathing space to let it expand and find the right tone.’
On returning to the rehearsal room at the start of the third week of rehearsals, a more detailed mark-up is discernible, including tape on the walls to indicate the various windows in the set. There’s also more furniture in the room, including an old dresser. On the noticeboard the team has added more information about the play’s setting, including photos of Ireland.
Today they’re working on Scene Four, in which Donny and Davey try to disguise a ginger cat as Wee Thomas by covering it in black shoe polish while sharing a bottle of poteen (a traditional Irish alcoholic drink). Michael is discussing with Denis Conway and Chris Walley, playing Donny and Davey respectively, how the alcohol might affect them. Michael also asks whether the drink is illegal? To which Denis answers yes. ‘My question is,’ says Michael, ‘by the time we come back to you (in Scene Seven), are there two empty bottles?’
Having run the scene once, Michael commends the actors – ‘Not bad at all’ – before turning his attention to his notes. ‘The only thing I didn’t hear was, “And I am no man to be pinching cats off of children”,’ he says to Chris, ‘because you’re being explicit with Martin’s stage-directions – “Mumbled” - but I’m going to invite you not to be.’
Michael considers the action of the scene, specifically covering the cat in shoe polish, which takes place inside a box on Davey’s then Donny’s knee. ‘You were doing a bit more “cat acting” before – let’s have more of that.’ He wonders whether they need to do another session with a puppeteer to help animate the cat and bring it to life?
‘How do we do that last beat so Donny only pulls the cat out for a second?’ asks Michael. ‘Otherwise we’ll think that’s a dead cat, that’s a prop cat. To cover ourselves, Donny should just show Davey the cat in the box. The minute we see it we’re having a conversation in our heads about whether it’s a real cat. The most crucial thing to me is, “Sure that cat’s orange” is only six lines into the scene. We need to see it’s orange first.’
He asks Chris: ‘What bit of that cat are you colouring in?’ Chris suggests that there should be some black colouring already down the cat’s back to help him cover it and Props Supervisor Celia Strainge makes a note. Michael reflects on what the audience will and won’t be able to see in relation to the storytelling: ‘Sitting further back in the stalls, I won’t see a cat in a box and shoe polish. The gag is there’s a ginger cat that’s being covered in black shoe polish followed by the line, “He’ll suspect”. I need to see it for the gag to work.’
Next, Michael concentrates on the text: ‘Now that little section, “I’m no man to go trampling on mams”… You two need to decide on the focus of it. At the moment you’re doing good poteen acting, which is a big tick, but we need to decide the focus – mam trampling – because it’s partly a set-up for later.’ He says to Chris: ‘I think you can help us there with your, “What did you go trampling on your mam for?”.’ Later Michael questions why Davey repeats the line about loving his mother (‘I love my mam. Love her more than anything. Love her more than anything’): ‘There’s a fact there, that you don’t have a girlfriend whom you love more than your mam and he should.’
Seeking to clarify meaning, Michael says: ‘Can I just go back and ask a couple of translation questions… Does “The same as that” mean “Me too”? Yes says Denis and Chris. Michael talks about the ‘shifts’ within the scene, by which he means a change of tone or focus, occasionally commenting: ‘One shift I don’t think is working…’ Later he notes: ‘That was a much better shift into, “We could tell him Wee Thomas has a disease makes him go orangey-looking”.’
Denis questions the stages of Donny’s and Davey’s drunkenness, referring to Donny’s ‘laughing’ at the end of the scene in response to Davey’s suggestion that Padraic will ‘blow out what little brains we have’ when he discovers the fate of his cat: ‘That’s where I think the poteen’s taken hold.’ Looking at this and the final section of the scene, Michael says: ‘I think you should give yourselves permission to indulge in the shoe polish eating – dare yourselves to indulge in it. I think you should both go for it.’ Celia asks if the shoe polish should be edible? Yes says Michael.
Drawing the session to a close, Michael concludes: ‘This relationship is really starting to develop - two men of differing ages, but the same intelligence, trying to work this situation out. You’re really getting into their stream of consciousness. It’s a rather wonderful relationship.’
After a short tea break, during which Associate Director Lynette Linton discusses with the understudies which scenes they’ll be rehearsing later, Michael moves onto Scene Five and he is joined in the rehearsal room by Will Irvine, Daryl McCormack and Julian Moore-Cook, who play Christy, Brendan and Joey respectively. They look at their positions at the start of the scene and Michael asks: ‘What did we say was the story of you all coming on separately?’ Having run it once he says: ‘Great, let’s look at that section. Let’s enjoy as actors picking-up cues so it really becomes about something here.’
Michael focuses on the text and the information it contains, which the cast needs to communicate to an audience: ‘It’s one thing we ought to do before we completely absorb ourselves in character and can’t be actors anymore.’ Joey’s line about ‘paws’ is an example of this, says Michael – ‘We need an “oh” moment.’ He counsels Julian to work his way carefully though his speech to arrive at the line, ‘Just paws’: ‘I think there’s a tighter thread between it.’ He also encourages him to push Joey’s response to the accusation of ‘Shitting his knickers’: ‘Just try being a little bit more defensive about it.’
In the scene, Christy and Brendan eat from tins of baked beans. Ever alert to anachronisms, Michael asks Lynette: ‘Did we have those ring-pulls on tin cans in 1993? That’s something for you to Google!’
Having run the scene again, Michael’s pleased with the progress the cast is making: ‘You’re very much into that scene now. I’m not seeing too much that needs work there.’ Looking over the scene he considers the section where Joey pulls out his pistol, in response to Christy and Brendan training their guns on him: ‘It’s a very odd moment. Are we doing what’s described in the play?’ He focuses on Joey’s response: ‘After the cocking of the gun we need to see something in you that gives us a different colour. If it were a close-up in a film it’d be a gulp.’ They run this section again. ‘The build-up was much better that time,’ says Michael. ‘It was funnier.’
He reflects on the musicality and rhythm of this and other scenes: ‘You have to remember there’s an underscore, which isn’t musical, where we the audience go, “Ah… Ah!”. The rhythm of it tells us we’re allowed to enjoy it.’ Commenting on the score, Michael adds: ‘Any music or sound in this production will be connecting tissue, not within the scenes themselves.’
He counsels the cast to observe this underscore, using Joey’s line, ‘And the cat batterers on top of it!’ that immediately follows Christy’s speech as an example. ‘Don’t end his speech rhythmically,’ Michael warns Julian. ‘You’re assuming it’s the end of his speech and ending it, although still give it to him.’ Later he says to Will: ‘Turn up the dial slightly on your line to Brendan, “Are you starting again?” There’s a discussion about who’s meant to be in charge, Michael concluding: ‘It’s funny because hierarchy doesn’t play much of a function in the play as a whole.’
At the end of the day’s rehearsals, Michael praises the actors: ‘Excellent. You’re in a good place for that scene. Hold onto it and we’ll come back to it on Thursday.’ Deputy Stage Manager Helen Smith then briefly highlights missed or incorrect lines so the actors can correct these for next time.
Author Martin McDonagh is back in rehearsals today, sitting next to Michael as he and the cast work through various scenes. They start with a return to Scene Five, featuring Christy (Will), Brendan (Daryl) and Joey (Julian), running the scene once through.
‘My big note for that is how high the stakes aren’t,’ Michael says afterwards. ‘Maybe it’s the sitting? The scene tends to sit with it. It’s missing where people are at each other and snapping. If we just sit down on the country road, the only stakes are the misquotes. The whole thing needs to be quicker. Joey needs to draw his gun at the same time as Christy and Brendan otherwise they’d kill him. With this scene, you join a group of people who whip themselves up into a frenzy as they’re all so on edge.’ He encourages the actors to ‘hit the ground running’.
Focusing on specific lines, Michael says to Julian: ‘Little things you can help us with… Don’t throw the line about Bloody Sunday away.’ Considering the section of the scene where everyone draws their guns on one another, Martin asks: ‘I wonder if there could be a moment when you lower the guns just before, “Although I’d like a combination of the two” and then they’re back up again?’ He encourages Will to ‘paint the picture of Cromwell’ with Christy’s allusion to this historical figure. Looking at the end of the scene, Michael suggests to Will: ‘I think it might be a bit more fun if you throw away the reference to the Jesuits. You’re not expecting them to come back on you.’
They run the scene again, this time standing up. ‘Much better,’ says Michael afterwards, ‘and let’s do it like that. It didn’t just animate all of the things we discussed, it raised all of the stakes.’ He likes the characters raising their guns straightaway: ‘Visually it tells us just how on edge you all are.’ Martin thinks it’s possible to push it even further: ‘I think there’s room for one another to be more in each other’s faces at moments. There’s edge to all of that stuff about splinter groups.’ He refers to the stakes around Christy’s speech, which attempts to ‘convince’ Joey about the righteousness of their cause – ‘There’s a threat.’ Michael agrees, commenting to the cast: ‘We will find the extremis you’re in but only if you find those moments for yourself.’
He takes the opportunity to ask Martin questions about the story and characters – ‘While I’ve got you, for clarity…’ He asks Martin about Padraic’s formation of a splinter group and the discussion includes reference to a ‘family tree’ of all the splits and branches from the IRA.
Before bringing the session to a close, Michael gives a general note warning the actors against dropping the ends of lines. Summing up, he comments: ‘We learn something about all three characters in this scene. We definitely know more about them by the end of it.’ He’s pleased with the progress they’ve made today, especially with the new insights Martin’s been able to provide: ‘That gives us quite a few things to work on when we come back to this scene.’
They move onto Scene Six, featuring Mairead (Charlie) and Padraic (Aidan). While the actors prepare, Michael and Martin swap notes. ‘Now a technical thing,’ says Michael, referring to the scene change into Six, ‘we can make a version of it with sound and a shift of light so we can tell she’s in another part of the island.’ Martin agrees, adding, ‘And a time-shift’.
Michael addresses the cast: ‘The last time we did this scene we got the bigger journey of the past and the present of you two, your relationship.’ Turning his attention to Charlie, he says: ‘Your journey, putting on the lipstick, each moment is a discovery to get us where we are. Getting us to know what you stood for then and what you stand for now.’
They run the scene, following which Michael comments: ‘We didn’t get the hurt from Mairead that time.’ He turns to Martin: ‘Do you want to go through some notes that might help with that?’ Martin offers his thoughts to Charlie on Mairead’s encounter with Padraic: ‘It’s scary and you’re not usually scared of anything, so you’re out on a limb - scared in a boy-girl “Will he like me?” kind of way. This has gone completely wrong so you can fall back on tough Mairead. Go through each of those lines, there are lots of colours to play with – the first is hurt. He keeps rejecting you so I think a desperation also creeps in.’ Michael thinks these notes are very helpful, adding to Charlie: ‘Just let that inform the next section.’
Next, Martin reflects on Padraic in this scene: ‘I think you might have already gone to a place of total worry about Wee Thomas.’ Michael adds: ‘There’s a general suspicion – “Why am I not getting the information about my cat?” ’ Martin comments on the moment when Mairead turns her air-rifle on Padraic, after he aims his guns at her head: ‘The most important part of the image is the distance of your gun barrel from his eye. It calls to mind the cows.’ Referring to Padraic’s advice to Mairead that she ‘marry some nice fella’, Martin says to Charlie: ‘It’s that speech that makes you say, “Go fucking die!” ’
Michael asks Charlie and Aidan to sit in chairs facing one another while they run the scene again: ‘All this is keeping an intense focus – making sure each line carries what it should. It’s purely an exercise. Take a step back and investigate the colour on each line. There’s definitely something when you’re on your feet that slightly dilutes what you’re doing if you’re not absolutely sure about your intentions. For now, take all the time in the world to give the scene air and find those moments. Take the time to get the intensity on each of those moments.’ Afterwards Michael comments: ‘When we come back to this scene next time we’ll do it like that but standing up.’
Martin adds a couple of notes: ‘Charlie, sing the song (‘The Patriot Game’) more plaintively. Always remember the meaning of the song, because to Mairead these words are important… Aidan, you can go to town on, “I do not prefer boys!” ’
Having asked the actors if they’ve any further questions for Martin while he’s in rehearsals, Michael moves onto Scene Seven with Donny (Denis) and Davey (Chris). ‘Shall we show Martin what we’ve done so far?’ asks Michael, observing that this scene follows on from Four, except that ‘it’s much later and they’re much more drunk’.
Following the run through of this short scene, Michael asks Martin: ‘Is there anything at all from a focus point of view?’ Martin thinks they can throwaway the reference to Wee Thomas and the cross Davey’s made more. He also thinks the audience should see the cross earlier.
Reflecting on the scene, Michael comments: ‘One thing we’ve never really done in this scene is tell the audience it’s five o’clock in the morning. It’s more a dynamic shift, whether we want to introduce that as a thing.’ Turning to Denis, he adds: ‘The only thing that doesn’t quite sit with me is you giving the bottle of poteen to Davey. I don’t think Donny would give it up.’ They decide that Donny should leave it on the table, from where Davey takes it later.
Aidan (Padraic) joins rehearsals for work on Scene Eight and Chris prepares by putting on kneepads, as both Davey and Donny spend a lot of this scene kneeling. As before, they run the scene – up to the unexpected knock on the door - and then discuss it. ‘Just a couple of little things, working backwards from that,’ says Michael afterwards. ‘Pick out “tribunal” more,’ he says to Aidan, ‘only because they (Donny and Davey) pick up on it.’
Looking at the moment when Davey and Donny explain the circumstances of Wee Thomas’ death – ‘We did see him in the road, Padraic…’ - Michael suggests to Chris and Denis: ‘There needs to be something of a collaboration at the start of that section. Blatantly we need some more focus-pulling.’ Martin adds: ‘Remember the stakes between you at this point – it’s ramping up. We don’t know that you’re not going to get shot here.’ He says to Chris: ‘Remember there’s no full-stops in your speech. Drive the whole way through.’ Chris and Denis run the lines again and the tension increases.
Concentrating on the way in which Padraic restrains Davey and Donny in this scene, Martin comments: ‘You don’t need to tie the feet. Speed is the essence here.’ While Michael likes the ritualistic quality of tying the feet, he agrees with Martin: ‘You’re right, any air that gets into the scene and between the lines lessens the tension.’ They cut tying the feet, Padraic now only tying Davey and Donny’s hands behind their backs. ‘Does that mean we need to rethink what you’re doing back there?’ Michael asks Aidan. ‘A little bit,’ he replies. They experiment with different ways to tie the knots to maintain the pace of the scene and eventually it’s decided that Stage Management will prepare and pre-set the rope.
‘Why would there by rope in the house?’ asks Denis and discussion amongst the team concludes that it’s an item that could be expected to be found in a rural household. Martin wonders whether Padraic needs to go looking for the rope as he knows the house? The stage-directions read, ‘Padraic rifles through a couple of drawers until he finds some rope’ and Michael thinks there’s also comedy to be had in him looking so this is kept. Considering the moment when Padraic takes a knife to Davey’s head, Martin comments: ‘The hair coming off should be over by Davey’s line, “Sure, he’d had a good innings…”, if that doesn’t mess everything else up.’
Michael says to Denis and Chris: ‘I like it when Padraic’s “Shut up!!” makes you both jump because we’re with your flow. ‘The stakes go right up there. We need to come in with something that raises the stakes and drives the scene forward.’ He adds to Aidan: ‘You could set that up a tiny bit more when Padraic says, “Now shut up while I make me speech”.’
Will (Christy), Daryl (Brendan), Julian (Joey) and Charlie (Mairead) return for the remaining ten pages of Scene Eight and the cast run the scene to the end. Afterwards Martin offers some thoughts: ‘Just little things… Will, paint the picture of what Padraic did to Skank Toby’s dog. There can be disdain on your line, “In a mood”.’ He suggests they keep their guns trained on Padraic standing in the centre of the room. ‘My only concern,’ says Michael, ‘is that we’re in the same place for the whole section.’ They explore Padraic’s movement about the space, Will commenting: ‘It feels a little like once he starts moving we lose power in the room.’
Following a further run through, Michael and Martin swap notes while the cast discuss their thoughts about the scene. Bringing the session to a close, Michael observes: ‘We’re in a good place there. The big changes for us in this scene are the rope and the slight readjustment of the guns.’ Mindful of the benefits of having the author present in rehearsals, he asks the cast: ‘While we’ve got Martin in the room, are there any questions about clarity?’ Charlie wonders why Mairead would shoot her brother, Davey, and Martin suggest it’s because she’s in love with the romance of the moment.
Michael proposes they go back over the scene tomorrow, when they’ll also start to introduce sound. ‘It’s been a very big day,’ says Michael as the actors prepare to leave. ‘It’s looking great!’ adds Martin.