| Inside the Rehearsal Room

Week Four, Day One

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.’

man in eye patch during theatre rehearsals
The Lieutenant of Inishmore technical rehearsals. Photo: Marc Brenner

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’.

man looking at woman
The Lieutenant of Inishmore rehearsals. Photo: Marc Brenner

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’.

cast relaxing on sofa
The Lieutenant of Inishmore rehearsals. Photo: Marc Brenner

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.

men relaxing on sofa with standing man
The Lieutenant of Inishmore rehearsals. Photo: Marc Brenner

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.’

man with gun and woman leaning into him
Charlie Murphy and Aidan Turner during rehearsals for The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Photo: Marc Brenner

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.