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HANGMEN by Martin McDonagh


  • Harlequin Theatre Queen Street Northwich United Kingdom (map)

"I'm just as good as bloody Pierrepoint."

‘Hangmen’ is a late 1960s-set black comedy about a retired executioner, Harry Wade (presumably named after real-life hangmen Harry Allen and Stephen Wade), that unfolds in the smoky lung of a Manchester pub run by this upright local celebrity.

It is the day that hanging is abolished in 1965. A baby-faced newspaperman wants an interview with Harry. Any mention of ‘celebrity’ executioner Albert Pierrepoint gets Harry’s goat. The regulars slip into an easy hierarchy of knockabout male power, matters turn uneasy when a cocky young southerner, Mooney, starts to ingratiate himself at the pub. Unease turns to dread when Harry’s daughter, Shirley goes missing and Harry’s former assistant, Syd has suspicions about the culprit.

McDouagh's writing feels ’60s in origins, 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’,  'Seven Psychopaths’ and the multi award winning 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri'. 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 avicious, funny play, stained with nicotine and nihilism.

Earlier Event: 27 November
THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR - Audition
Later Event: 5 February
SILENCE - Reading