Capital punishment is no laughing matter. But Martin McDonagh’s Hangmen removes the ground from under the feet of that thought and dangles it in front of you.
For those familiar with McDonagh’s screen works, which include the highly acclaimed In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, dark humour may be an ever-expected theme, but in all honesty I entered Wyndham’s Theatre last week not knowing much about Hangmen at all. When the curtain opened to a confined stage in the form of a prison cell, with a nervous looking convict flanked by two motionless authorities, excitement took hold of me. At the sound of eight clock chimes four additional figures, including the hangman, entered the room; and with them, a conclusive chime of the bell struck, with the line, “Oh, you punctual b*****ds!”
The opening scene went on to delight with a devilishly witty dialogue that warmed the crowd to such a chilling subject. With lines such as, “No, but he’s right, Mr Hennessy. If you’d’ve just tried to relax you could’ve been dead by now”, the laughter echoed upon the stone cold walls of Mr Hennessy’s cell.
Not only was it the touch of McDonagh magic, but also the cast who delivered their lines with such perfect execution (mind the pun), such deadpan, that one could not help but laugh at what is actually a horrifically haunting honesty of our heritage.
And for any of us wondering why Hangmen recently received the award for Best Design in the Evening Standard Theatre Awards, our questions were well and truly answered by the end of Act One. But that’s all I’ll say on the matter – you’ll have to find out what I’m talking about for yourselves, won’t you?!
It’s no surprise that Hangmen has transferred to the West End from the Royal Court Theatre. It is a cruelly comedic drama that leaves you slightly speechless yet smiling. If you missed it first time around, don’t make the same mistake twice.
Hangmen is showing at London’s Wyndham’s Theatre until 5 March 2016, book now at Ticketmaster.co.uk.