On first glance this is “just” a very hilarious comedy. The story of rivalling hangmen, now made obsolete through the abolishment of the death penalty, still bickering about who was better, had more or at least more gruesome perpetrators under the noose is fun to watch from the safety of a theatre seat. But there’s also a second story told: a story about how easily any given run of the mill person can turn into a vicious part of a lynch mob, given the right push.
Hangman Harry Wade’s last job was the hanging of rapist/murderer Hennessy who vehemently denies that he’d committed what he’s being hanged for. He’s putting up a fight, too and finally insults Wade by crying “They could’ve at least sent Pierrepoint. Hung by a rubbish hangman, oh that’s so me.” That doesn’t go over too well, so Wade retorts: “If you’d have tried to relax, you could’ve been dead by now.”
In his pub (for every hangman gets himself a pub after his job’s done) Wade has a round of admirers, even a shady police inspector, to keep him company and drink his beer. His wife Alice and his moping teenage daughter Shirley are also behind the bar and life is good, as long as Wade’s allowed to spin the yarn. Then a sneering, wisecracking young Londoner comes in and everything changes. Because Mooney tells of a rape/murder in one of the coastal towns not too far away – just like the ones Hennessy had been hanged for. So while Mooney flirts with blushing young Shirley, doubt starts to nag on Wade’s mind. What if his idiot then assistant Syd was right all along and there is a killer still on the loose…
But it was Syd who paid and sent Mooney to stir up the self righteous life of Harry Wade as a late revenge for all the crap he had to endure while working for the hangman. And Mooney got almost too good at his charade…
Hours later Shirley is missing.
And when Mooney turns up at the pub, an enraged, fearful father Wade captures and tortures him with the help of his three drunk clients. When Pierrepoint shows up to confront Wade with some not so polite words he’d gleefully uttered in a newspaper interview they have to hide Mooney – but Pierrepoint stumbles over a chair behind the curtain – and Mooney hangs himself. When Pierrepoint leaves it is already too late for Mooney. He died, not telling where he’d hidden Shirley.
Shirley, who swirls into the pub, enraged, because Mooney had left her stranded in the rain. She mopes upstairs to her room, while the men just stare. And then get rid of the body.
It’s a dark, dark comedy, one that makes you feel uncomfortable and insecure about your own judgement and leaves you with lots to think about. David Morrissey is fantastic as the self centered, egomaniacal hangman who seems to have no morals at all. Mooney (Johnny Flynn) gives you the creeps and makes it totally believable that he indeed kidnapped and hid Shirley (Bronwyn James and absolutely brilliant!!!). And the three drunks have been compared to the stooges and rightfully so. They are the perfect “side show”.
The brilliant writing is by Martin McDonagh. The house is sold out, btw.