Martin McDonagh is famous for writing stories gorged with gallows humor and violence. So he’s in comfort zone with his thoroughly entertaining but not completely airtight “Hangmen.”
The play spins off of actual events in the mid-1960s. As it opens, Harry (Mark Addy), England’s No. 2 hangman, and his less-than-deft assistant Syd (Reece Shearsmith) oversee the execution of Hennessey (Gilles Geary). The convict declares his innocence to no avail.
Flash-forward two years. Harry and his wife Alice (Sally Rogers) run a pub and rent rooms above it. On the day hanging is abolished, Harry’s motley usuals gather to gab and guzzle, along with a wily cub reporter (Owen Campbell) who name-drops the No. 1 noose-man Albert Pierrepoint (a real figure, played by Maxwell Caulfield) to get blustering Harry to comment for a juicy story.
Enter Mooney (Johnny Flynn), an odd, slightly menacing stranger who asks about renting a room and takes an unsettling interest in Harry and Alice’s 15-year-old daughter Shirley (Gaby French, wonderfully sympathetic).
Like a pint of Guinness, the plot is thick. To say much more would spoil twists (some that you see coming) as McDonagh chases ideas about power, guilt and innocence.
These are signature McDonagh themes, ones that toll loudly in his revenge movie “Three Billboards.” Mooney is a reminder of a small but pivotal character — a man who’s guilty of something but exactly what is unclear — in the film.
Flynn, an invaluable holdover from 2015 London runs of the play, is a mashup of sexy-roguish Michael Caine and shaggy Rhys Ifans. Flynn enthralls even when the script fails to make a case for some of his illogical actions.
Under the direction of Mattnew Dunster, the whole ensemble is killer — right down to small roles of quirky barflies played by Billy Carter, Richard Hollis, John Horton and David Lansbury. The set, which harbors its own surprises, costumes and lighting hit the right notes as they add to the mood.
There have been better McDonagh plays in New York — among them, “The Pillowman” and “The Cripple of Inishman.” But “Hangmen” comes out swinging and despite questions that arise about why some characters do what they do, the play ropes you in.