Hangmen: Director Q&A

Hangmen: Director Q&A

'Hangmen' Director, Sean Baker, answers much-asked questions about the Combined Actors' upcoming production.

Given that the play is called ‘Hangmen’, audiences might be forgiven for thinking this is a serious drama about a serious subject, but it isn’t, is it?

Definitely not! It’s written by Martin McDonagh, known for his black comedy, such as in his movie ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’. His skill is in finding the humour in dark subject matter and ‘Hangmen’ is no exception. It’s very, very funny – easily the funniest play I’ve directed since ‘One Man Two Guvnors’. 

But it does deal with the subject of capital punishment, doesn’t it?

Sort of, but not in any great philosophical sense. It’s mainly set in 1965, just after Parliament voted to abolish the death penalty, and there is a line near the end of the play which really gets to the heart of the morality of the very idea of the death penalty.

Photo by Paul Ashley

So where does the humour come from?

It comes from contrasts. For example, the play is set largely in a pub in Oldham, and most of the characters are local. But not all. So McDonagh extracts humour from a north versus south rivalry. And he loves playing with juxtapositions – he puts unexpected words and references in his characters’ mouths. For an actor, of course, this is gold – they think “this is one part of my character, and here’s another side to them”. His characters are never stereotypes: the dodgy policeman turns out to have something approaching a conscience, for example. In essence, it’s a comedy centred on a man coming to terms with losing his job and wondering what he’s going to do next. 

There’s also an element of mystery in this play isn’t there?

Yes, there is. Any review or synopsis you read about ‘Hangmen’ will likely refer to the ‘mysterious Mooney’. He’s a character who shows up in the pub early on and is quickly identified as someone who’s “not from round these parts”. For an audience, one of the joys of this play is working out who he is and, more importantly, what his motivations are. And, of course, one of the joys for us as a company has been to unravel that ourselves during the rehearsal process.

Photo by Paul Ashley

Is the play based at all on real people?

Yes, apart from featuring a version of Albert Pierrepoint, who some people may have heard of, perhaps even remember if they’re old enough, the main character, Harry Wade, is based on a real hangman of the time called Harry Allen, who was actually Britain’s last hangman. I found out recently that he’s the grandfather of an actor/comedian called Fiona Allen, who was in ‘Smack the Pony’ and ‘Coronation Street’. In an interview I read she talks about her memories of him as a loving grandfather and how, growing up, she had no knowledge of that other side of him. Julian Cooper, who plays Harry, has used that softer side of his character in his portrayal.

Finally, what can audiences look forward to?

A lot of laughs, some moments of unease and one or two shocks. And a deep discussion as they leave the theatre about what exactly Mooney was up to!

Hangmen by Martin McDonagh
ADC Theatre
Tuesday 02 - Saturday 06 July 2024
Click here to book tickets