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Off Broadway

He Says: ATC’s Hangmen The Smell of Death Never Really Vanishes, Does It?

He Says: ATC’s Hangmen The Smell of Death Never Really Vanishes, Does It?
The first scene throws us quite quickly into the dark world of the Hangmen in 1963 England. A man (Gilles Geary) with an abject look of terror on his face, that feels as inconsequential to the story as any in that bleak cell room, pleads for his life as he proclaims his innocence. Something these Hangmen, I’m sure hear every day as they carry out their deadly duties. The head hangman, Harry, played with puffed up bravado by Mark Addy (Royal National’s Collaborators) is relaxed and workman-like, unaffected by his pleas, assisted by the nervous and stammering assistant, Syd, played perfectly weasel-like by Reece Shearsmith (Duke of York’s The Dresser); the two get the job done, eventually, and then go for breakfast. It’s a tense and electric scene, layered in twisted humor, making us laugh as the edgy violent feelings about what is to come grows. Beautifully orchestrated by director Matthew Dunster (Royal Court’s Liberian Girl) and fight choreographer, J. David Brimmer, this first moment gives us very little idea what importance to take from this mayhem or where current Academy Award nominee (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri“) Martin McDonagh is about to take us.
Reece Shearsmith, Mark Addy. Photo by Ahron R. Foster.
Then with a tense and anxiety producing flicker, courtesy of lighting designer Joshua Carr (West End’s RAZ) and sound designer Ian Dickinson for Autograph, Hangmen‘s powerfully eerie set, created by the inventive set and costume designer, Anna Fleischle (Apollo’s Everybody’s Talking About Jamie) evolves into something quite different, amazingly taking us to a place that was entirely unexpected. This new locale, a meticulously created family-owned pub in Oldham, Lancashire is really where this tale is going to spin out, much to our dark and humorous pleasure. Holding court as he loves to do, is Harry, the ‘Second-Best’ hangman in England, the man we saw just going about his work casually in the first scene, is now, we discover, being put out to pasture due to the abolishing of ‘death by hanging’. What will this historic news bring forth?
Mark Addy, Sally Rogers, Richard Hollis, John Horton, Billy Carter. Photo by Ahron R. Foster.
Surrounded by his admirers; Richard Hollis (Broadway’s The Curious Incident…) as Bill, Billy Carter (Broadway’s A Moon for the Misbegotten) as Charlie, and the spectacularly hilarious John Horton (Broadway’s Noises Off) as Arthur, characters that are as dim-witted as they are funny (and unfortunately slightly underwritten), who see Harry as a bit of celebrity, a young newspaper reporter (Owen Campbelltries to get a headline-worthy reaction out of Harry to the day’s historic news. Watched over by his wonderfully period-perfect wife, Alice, played magnificently by Sally Rogers (BAM’s Blue Heart), his moody teenage daughter, Shirley, anxiously played to perfection by Gaby French (Hampstead’s Scarlett), and his sardonic police inspector friend, Fry, played by the steadfast David Lansbury (Broadway’s War Horse), Harry jostles for greater status over the other, now-retired celebrity hangman, Albert Pierrepoint, whose hanging numbers might be higher, but within the off-handed comments about Germans, there are some who might quibble and argue against Albert’s title of ‘Best Hangman in England’. The main one being Harry who views them as running ‘neck and neck’, until push comes to shove with the impressive turn by Maxwell Caulfield (Broadway’s An Inspector Calls) when Harry’s true nature starts to show.
Johnny Flynn. Photo by Ahron R. Foster.
But for the time being, all seems very jovial and fairly peaceful on this momentous day. That is until a disconcerting well-dressed southerner strolls in, asking for a pint of whatever, as “they are all the same up north, aren’t they?”, and a bag of nuts.  No one can quite make-out what this shaggy haired dandy fellow by the name of Mooney wants. Played with a brilliantly seductive and vaguely menacing stance by Johnny Flynn, a role he originated at the Royal Court Theatre and Hangmen‘s West End transfer, we soon find out. Or do we? He unquestionably doesn’t fit in at this typical small northern town pub, but young Shirley is intrigued, as is her mother, initially. But things most decidedly start to feel tense in that room, and as more time passes, and more pints are consumed, the electricity and sense of impending violence and doom escalates, just as the storm outside those doors worsens.
Mark Addy, Sally Rogers. Photo by Ahron R. Foster.
Coming to the Atlantic Theater after its very successful run in London, Hangmen packs a powerful and dark humored punch that keeps you dangling on the edge of your seat, feeling squeamish and nervous about all that goes on within the walls of this simple neighborhood pub. The casualness of violence peppered with racist and sexist comments, helped along by the dialectic couching of Stephen Gabis, is unsettling and disconcerting. McDonagh’s writing shines as bright as the gallows is dark and deadly in this typical-feeling play from Ireland’s most acclaimed living playwright.  The feeling he has for these people is as solid and British as I hear “Three Billboards...” is revolting, and American, showcasing the worst of the Missouri lot. With precision and sinister glee, Hangmen makes us glad McDonagh, who wow’d us with the epic and ferocious Pillowman and The Beauty Queen of Leenane over the yearshas finally returned to Atlantic with his first US premiere in 8 years, surprising us with a few unexpected, dynamic, and sometimes hard to swallow orchestrations and twists, all the while engaging us completely with a breathless and ferocious relish. Welcome back!
David Lansbury, Gaby French, Johnny Flynn, Richard Hollis, John Horton, Billy Carter in Martin McDonagh’s play Hangmen directed by Matthew Dunster at Atlantic Theater Company. Photo by Ahron R. Foster,

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Off Broadway

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to

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