Review: NT Live – Hangmen


I really want to open with appreciation for the remarkable writing, acting and casting in this play. There were sometime moments that meant  I wasn’t fully able to appreciate these things to their entirety but I will disclose later. But, overall, I think I came away with a really great opinion of the play!

Hangmen follows Harry Wade (David Morrissey), the second most famous executioner in the country, who now works as a pub landlord in Oldham. Things begin to sour for the retired hangman and his wife Alice (Sally Rogers) when a mysterious man named Peter Mooney (Johnny Flynn) appears at the hotel.

The opening scene successfully presented us with the perfect balance of setting the scene and being humourous without detracting from the difficult nature of the scene itself (a hanging). This scene concluded with a harrowing picture of an empty noose, swinging gently – the lighting was superb and the juxtaposition of laughing one minute and silence the next as you appreciate the gravity of the situation… was mesmerising.

Johnny Flynn stole the show – I mean, my goodness! His whole demeanour was absolutely perfect. Anyone that can be that menacing and still retain a large degree of humour and humanity is clearly someone of talent! Such a versatile actor. All actors involved in Hangmen did an incredible job but Johnny Flynn was in a league of his own. I found the humour of the play to be quite slapstick occasionally and I think it’s difficult to stay on the right side of slapstick when playing someone that appears to have multiple personalities. Johnny never crossed that line – although evoking laughs it was done in such a way that left the audience more scared of what this man was capable of (if anything).

Although, it needs to be recognised that it couldn’t have been done with out such amazing writing – Martin McDonagh managed to successfully write a character who was a clear sociopath; showing signs of remorse whilst simultaneously boasting about alleged crimes. He really was menacing and definitely sent a chill down my spine.

You do come away from the play with a question unanswered; did they catch the right man? Has justice been served? And you never quite know the answer to this – which drove some people insane. Leaving the theatre people were saying “did he do it, though?” and things like that…

But just in case you missed this… I want to explain why this is even more proof of a fantastic plot; The whole play was about the abolition of the death penalty. Two people wind up dead by the end and they still don’t know 100% sure that the guy that committed the crime is dead. Sure, that’s what you want to know – but you can’t. And that’s the point! Hanging was abolished because in some cases, the police might have pieced together mountains of evidence but they still couldn’t prove beyond reasonable doubt that they’d committed the crime. That’s the rub! Someone’s life is a very definitive price to pay only to be pardoned later. It made you ask yourself… is it worth taking the risk?

Okay, so some of the humour wasn’t to my taste and the repetition of the word “cock” induced one-too-many eye-rolls. I have already commended the placement of gags in large parts of the script but I did feel at times that the sexual jokes weren’t fitting with the calibre of the rest of the play (eg, the time that Andy Nyman’s character was fishing around for the guys keys)… It did add another level to the play but one that I didn’t think was necessary. That, I know, is personal preference and call me a prude if you will!

Ultimately I came away with a real sense that the play had moved me. I was left thinking and the play had done more than enough so I would, without a doubt, recommend it to friends and family – Well done!! Outstanding!!