Theatre: A capital performance from the hangmen

Theatre: A capital performance from the hangmen

The good news is that Martin McDonagh’s Hangmen, a witty black comedy thriller about capital punishment and miscarriages of justice originally staged at the Royal Court, has now transferred to Wyndham’s Theatre. It could be in the running for Best Play award.

Matthew Dunster’s production maintains a tight grip on a revenge plot which goes violently wrong. A McDonagh play without any violence would be a contradiction in terms. The action takes place in 1965 mainly in an Oldham pub owned by England’s last hangman (David Morrissey), an arrogant, cowardly bully, who boasts he hanged 233 people and is put firmly in his place by the former number-one hangman (John Hodgkinson). Johnny Flynn has a big success as a Southern intruder who is both charming and menacing, and delivers his lines, with their Ortonesque speech rhythms, with comic assurance.

Samuel Pepys saw Macbeth eight times. What he liked best, apart from the acting of Thomas Betterton, was the singing and dancing. But then he didn’t see Shakespeare’s version; he saw William Davenant’s adaptation. I suspect the only place you could see a singing and dancing Macbeth nowadays would be in Verdi’s opera and in the Zulus’ uMabatha, a tribal warrior version whose high points are the pounding feet and drumming.

Director Carrie Cracknell and Australian choreographer Lucy Guerin have done some heavy cutting to Shakespeare’s text at the Young Vic and added a lot of movement; but the movement bears little relation to the play. Lizzie Clachan’s set is a long grey tunnel receding into the distance with moving walls and hidden doors. The stage is piled high with body bags.

The witches are certainly weird. Strutting and fretting, they look like shop-window mannequins waiting for clothes. The much-loved King Duncan, famous for his goodness, has been turned into a thug. The Porter has gone completely. John Heffernan and Anna Maxwell Martin won’t be most people’s idea of the Macbeths; but at least Heffernan speaks his lines distinctly.

Penelope Skinner’s Linda at Royal Court Theatre is about women getting to 50 and being under-represented and marginalised and feeling ignored, invisible and irrelevant. It’s a rallying cry to women to refuse to be defined by their age and outward appearance.

Kim Cattrall was rehearsing Linda, the leading role, when, just days before the opening night, she was advised by her doctors to withdraw from the production. Noma Dumezweni bravely stepped into the breach. The press night was not cancelled and 10 days later she was appearing before the critics, giving a terrific performance as the marketing executive of a cosmetics corporation, who is 55 and having an awful time with her boss and her cheating husband.

The trouble with the adaptation of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days at St James’s Theatre is that nothing really happens and there is no urgency about the £20,000 wager. It’s like watching a travelogue without the scenery or a schoolboy adventure story without the adventure.

Laura Eason’s script could have been wittier. Lucy Bailey’s cute mini-production relies on the personalities of the actors and mime. Robert Portal is Phileas Fogg. Simon Gregor is Cantinflas.