Aidan Turner is right up there in the field of acting hot property. He is especially known as Ross Poldark in the BBC series “Poldark,” where steamy scenes of him shirtless somewhat eclipsed headlines about his impressive acting.
Now the Irish actor makes his West End debut at the Noel Coward in “The Lieutenant of Inishmore,” playing another darkly handsome character and proving he is as able to smolder on the stage as well as screen. He clearly does not want to be remembered just for his stills with a scythe or his painted-on abs. So those who may be waiting for his clothes to fall off, all done in the best possible taste of course, will be sadly disappointed. This reviewer’s female companion had to be content with Turner’s tight vest and apparently lovely arms.
He faces a slightly difficult task of how to play Mad Padraic, a man deemed too violent for the IRA. Can a charming man of angelic beauty be convincing as an extreme terrorist who tortures, murders and thinks the idea of a good night out is to plant a few bombs just for a laugh? Turner has a menacing stubbly look, scowls a lot and is gifted with many Pinterseque lines by the playwright Martin McDonagh, which could be anodyne yet sound terrifying: “I’ll be on the first boat… in the fecking morning!”
Even more problematical is how to play this psychopath, who somehow has a soft spot for his pet cat Wee Thomas, whom he tenderly describes as having been his only friend for 15 years. This is a harder sell. Turner does his best here, and is helped because the play has another twist. It is not just violent but funny. The darkly comic contradiction is absurd and played for laughs, which can leave even Turner struggling to keep a straight face. It’s not plot spoiling too much to say that Padraic flips out when he is told Wee Thomas is unwell. Nearly every scene reflects a life-or-death conflict.
Charlie Murphy is a convincing Mairead, Padraic’s love interest who coldly practices her shots by hitting cows in the eyeballs from a distance. She has a fine singing voice too, and turns out to be even more radical and pet-devoted than self-proclaimed lieutenant Padraic himself. Chris Walley, fresh from RADA, plays Mairead’s brother, the mullet-haired dope Davey. He comes on like a latter-day Shaggy from “Scooby-Doo,” who gets more freaked out by the escalating violence that soon goes well beyond a cat that has been squashed on the road and whose body is tossed about like a comic fluffy toy.
Fortunately Davey doesn’t have to witness one character, James the drug pusher, hanging upside down for some 10 minutes after having his toenails pulled out. Well done to actor Brian Martin for surviving this inverted pose for so long. Padraic is getting ready to slice off one of James’s nipples with a razor blade. If you think that’s bad, enough look away toward the end, as bodies pile up and then get dismembered. People slip over in the piles of body and pools of blood, and it is all played for slapstick. Tarantino would love the gore.
The credits are strong, with Michael Grandage’s company reviving the story. McDonagh’s play is almost as bleakly comic as his wonderful “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” one of the best works in recent years at the Young Vic. Of course, his latest “A Very Very Very Dark Matter” comes to the Bridge Theatre soon.
The London stage is a good place to outgrow some movie parts and show more seriousness. Turner, 35, is now way beyond Poldark and his part as Kili in “The Hobbit”—in the same way as Orlando Bloom, 41, is beyond Legolas in “Lord for the Rings.” Bloom tries a little nudity in the similarly shocking “Killer Joe.” “Poldark” fans are flocking along but even so, the point is reached where audiences really just want a clever, well-done, well-acted thought-provoking and yet entertaining play. “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” ticks all of these boxes. Rating: **** (out of 5).
At Noel Coward, London, through September 8.
Founder Louise Blouin