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Cripple of Inishmaan - the understudy run

Have been to a tech rehearsal before but an understudy run is a new experience. Some theatre companies will open their doors to the public, for others it's an invite only affair, a chance for friends, family and perhaps agents to see what maybe the understudies only time performing their roles in front of an audience.

For the Cripple of Inishmaan, the third play in Michael Grandage's season at the Noel Coward theatre it was the latter with my friend Henry Everett ensuring my name was on the list.

Henry is understudying for three parts: Johnnypateenmike, Babbybobby and the doctor and there are three other understudies: Nuala Walsh, Brian Fenton and Clare McMahon who between them cover the remaining six parts. Each took on the main character they understudy - in Henry's case Johnnypateenmike - and the stage cast filled in the rest of the parts, giving up their time for the occasion.

In the huge Noel Coward theatre there were 40 or so of us in the audience, including Mr Grandage, making it a select gathering; our own private performance. Naturally with so many friends and family in the house there was an enthusiastic and supportive atmosphere as the curtain rose.

And the understudies were all brilliant especially considering this was the first fully cast run through they'd done and the first time they'd worked with the stage cast. It's a testament to their skill and talent that they carried it off without any stutters or stumbles or if there were, they were very well disguised.

It's the first time I've see Henry perform and he had big shoes to fill following Pat Shortt's almost play stealing performance but the hug between the two actors afterwards was added evidence that he'd done a great job in capturing the manipulative but funny story-teller.

Brian Fenton was interesting to watch as Cripple Billy, the part played by Daniel Radcliffe. Now Dan Rad does a fantastic and accomplished job but he carries a lot of baggage with him; in that I mean, he is so famous you have to work hard to forget who he is. Having Fenton play the part was freeing, I could really concentrate on the character. I cried for the tragedy of Billy the first time I saw the Cripple of Inishmaan and here I cried all over again.

Seeing this understudy run was a rare treat, something unique and definitely recommended if you ever get the chance. Henry is going to get more time at the Noel Coward in Michael Grandage's A Midsummers Night's Dream but this time he's in the stage cast and I hope to see Brian Fenton and the others get their chance in the spotlight again too.


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