29 January 2016

Hangmen at Wyndham's Theatre was a modern Ealing Comedy

I went to see Hangmen on a recommendation. An actress I follow on Twitter (after seeing her on stage) raved about the first run of this new play and predicted that it would soon be in the West End so when it came I went.

Wyndham's is easy to get to/from as it is right next to one of the entrances to Leicester Square Underground Station. That is also conveniently close to Govinda's vegetarian restaurant so I went there first for my usual large thali.

Despite the recommendation I was not going to take much of a rick on the play and, as I usually do in west end theatre, I went for a front-row seat way up high. This time I was in the Grand Circle, seat A4, for which I paid a paltry £20.

Hangmen opened with a hanging, one of the last before hanging was abolished in 1965. It also opened with some funny lines letting us know in no uncertain terms that this was a full-on comedy despite the subject matter. The prisoner due to be hanged struggled while protesting his innocence. At one point one the warders admonishes him for his struggling and said that if he had not been messing about he would have been dead by then. He was hanged (not hung, as was repeatedly pointed out) soon after still protesting his innocence.

The hangings over, the Hangman returned to his pub where the rest of the play took place. There he was joined by several of the locals. They were quite a quirky bunch and helped to keep the laughs coming.

A stranger came into the bar and stirred things up by his words and behaviour. He spoke quickly and constantly as if thinking out loud. Some of this was just odd, such as suggesting that Scottish prostitutes were ugly, while some of it was more sinister with suggestions that the young man hanged at the opening of the play was innocent.

Things continued in that vein with a dark theme squirming its way through a set of funny characters. The clash between the light and the dark aspects of the play provided a meaty tension and turned what could have been something funny but light and fluffy, something like Dad's Army, into something with substance, something like The Lady Killers.

The dark theme to the play came to a dark end (an unexpected one) though it neatly left several questions unanswered. The humorous light theme remained strong throughout and the play was genuinely funny. This humour came from the characters and did not resort to slapstick for any cheap laughs, proving that intelligent humour is just as funny as any other humour.

I enjoyed Hangmen immensely though I would not go as far as to call it a 5-star play, for me it lacked originality for that. That is not to belittle it, rather I want to avoid over inflating it. It was very good indeed, just not exceptional. I would happily go and see it again if somebody offered me a ticket!

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