National Theater Live Production of HANGMEN Review - Part of a Wonderful Series

If this is not one of my most enthusiastic and effusive reviews then I really don’t know how to write! In all my years of writing reviews for theater, opera, etc., I have never seen anything quite so spellbinding and so fascinating in originality and I am very excited to tell you about it and more like it.


First the backstory:

The National Theater Live Production of HANGMEN is a hybrid, a wonderful example of what technology can do today. HANGMEN is a Royal Court Theater production of an English play by English playwright Martin McDonagh.


Yes, it's a Royal Court Theater production. Yes, it was produced in England. And yes, we were mesmerized by it at Northwestern University in the Josephine Louis Theater thanks to the power of the Internet.


Alice (Sally Rogers). Photo by Helen Maybanks

Billed as a simulcast, it isn't exactly: if it were a true simulcast, we would have been watching it at about 1 o'clock in the morning. Instead we watched it at 7 o'clock at night in on the beautiful campus of Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. Why am I being so finicky about giving you the location? Because there are more wonderful programs like this and I want you to know where they are and how to get there!

So now that I have that out-of-the-way, let me tell you what you missed and what you have to look forward to it.

First of course what you missed, directly from the program:


Charlie (Ryan Pope) and Bill (Tony Hirst). Photo by Helen Maybanks

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 England to do on the day they've abolished hanging? Amongst the cub reporters and pub regulars dying to hear Harry’s reaction to the news, his old assistant Syd (Andy Nyman – Peaky Blinders, Death at a Funeral) and the peculiar Mooney (Johnny Flynn – Clouds of Sils Maria) lurk with very different motives for their visit.


My friend, Fred Ciba, granted this “intermission interview:” His insights and observations are fascinating and indicative of how thought-provoking the play was:


“My initial reaction before the performance was one of skepticism in believing I'd like this play as I am not a fan of macabre humor. I was prepared to be uncomfortable. 

However, although there were scenes that were grim, the fine writing overpowered my uneasiness. 


The story line was most unusual. The final day of England's hangman in 1965 and two years later?  Who could possibly think there is a story here?  Yet there was.

What was this stranger up to in his visit to the pub, and, what was his motive?”


Syd (Andy Nyman), Hennessey (Josef Davies), Harry (David Morrissey) and the Hangmen company. Photo by Helen Maybanks

To me, he was the conscience of the executioner. Was the last man to be hanged in England an innocent man? And, in fact, was this stranger the real killer? Intriguing plot. 

Subplots were fun… pub characters with fun quirks, a previous hangman that perhaps was better at the job, daughter who adds to the suspense created by the stranger. 

Fred’s “grade?” 9.2 (out of a possible 10!) says it all!


Not surprisingly, we both had some questions about the some English accents and inside humor, but minor questions at that. 


That, of course is why I so highly recommend the National Theater Live Encore Series! Here’s your chance to catch up on those plays you never would have missed if you had known about them!  


Here’s the link to it - National Theater Live Encore Series


I hope to see YOU at as many of these incredible productions as possible. What a wonderful way to enjoy London theater!

Photos: Courtesy of National Theater Live

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