Hangmen: The triumphant return of an instant classic

Martin McDonagh’s Hangmen returned to the city where it’s set this weekend and managed to retain the original style which made it a smash-hit in 2015.

Presented by Painting Elephants CIC and performed by a talented group of amateurs, this play managed to strike the perfect balance which lies between a northern sense of humour and dark thematic tones such as hanging and child disappearance.

Chuckles from the audience and a staunch applause at the end proved this, and the cast did the best they could given the low-budget of Salford Arts Theatre (the sound of a laptop notification heard while switching scenes was probably unintended).

For a play set in Oldham in 1965, the historical realism seems accurate – judging from tales from my Oldham-born Grandmother about racism and dodgy men in pubs.

Indeed, the play resonates heavily and somewhat disconcertingly with modern life: the racism, the dodginess, the North-South divide. Now seems the perfect time to resurrect such a body of work.

The script is awash with northernisms and Oldhamers are portrayed as uneducated, and there is some decent acting when discussing the recent abolition of capital punishment and the hanging of a supposedly innocent man.

There’s little to criticise about Hangmen. Set mostly in a pub, there’s even strategic comedy from the drunkards who act as the dunces of the piece.

Harry is the pub-owner/ex-hangman, and his daughter goes missing presumably with a “menacing” man Peter Mooney, from down south while a “newspaper man” documents Harry’s involvement in WWII, as well as some “miscarriages of justice” to do with the practice.

Second lead Jake Talbot gave a good performance, despite the occasional joke failing to land, which is to be expected from all plays. This tragicomedy delights and spellbinds, and comes highly recommended.

I won’t spoil the ending but it wraps up as any good play should. It leaves you with an aftertaste, pause for thought and a deeper knowledge of your home city.

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