National Theatre Live: Hangmen (2016)

  |  Comedy, Drama

National Theatre Live: Hangmen (2016) Poster

In his small pub in the northern English town of Oldham, Harry (David Morrissey - The Walking Dead, State of Play) is something of a local celebrity. But what's the second-best hangman in ... See full summary »


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12 June 2019 | TheLittleSongbird
| Dark gallows
Know Martin McDonagh better as a director, through his films 'In Bruges', 'Seven Psychopaths' and 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri'. Liked 'Seven Psychopaths', while having some serious reservations, and really liked and nearly loved the other two (again not considering either perfect). The most common flaw with all three being the "run out of gas" endings. All three though are exceptionally well made, written and cast. So there were high hopes.

High hopes that weren't diminished. Anyone who liked or loved McDonagh's films will, or at least should, find a lot to like about 'Hangmen' as a play, as all his trademark touches there in all three of the mentioned films are here. This National Theatre Live production is as good a way to get acquainted with it as one can get and it is a great production in its own right. Not among my favourite ever National Theatre Live screenings, but only because there are so many brilliant ones and picking favourites are hard.

In my opinion, the first half is better than the second half. The second half is still very good, it's still darkly funny and suspenseful and the structure is mostly very meticulous, but the latter stages start to run out of gas in momentum and the ending for my tastes is too convenient. Have found the endings to be the most common problem with McDonagh.

And it is a shame, because the rest of 'Hangmen' is wonderful. It starts with the single most chilling beginning of any National Theatre Live production and one of the most unsettling beginnings of any performance on stage, whether in cinema or live, in my opinion. Luckily such great promise continues all the way to the latter stages of the second half, with a dazzling display of dark rapid-fire wit, gritty and thrilling storytelling that explores a controversial subject with taste, moments of genuine unpredictability, dark truth, complex emotion, thought-provoking psychological elements and offbeat characters.

The performances are all eclectric, while David Morrissey gives a subtly intense and nuanced lead turn and Andy Nyman is both amusing and sensitive it is Johnny Flynn's menacing Mooney that steals the show.

Other than the writing and cast, a big strength is the production values. The sets especially are gorgeously designed and deliciously dour, which suits the play's tone to perfection.

Summarising, extremely good. 8/10

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