McDonagh’s dark gallows humor shines a light on wrongful executions in ‘Hangmen’ at Broadway’s Golden Theatre

It’s 1963, and England’s second-best hangman Harry Wade is performing his last execution, of a young man protesting his innocence and desperately fighting for his life to the very end. Two years later, Harry is a pub owner in the north country. He is revered as a celebrity by the hard-drinking (and hard-hearted) regulars who hang out there, sought after by a cub reporter who wants to get his views on both the wrongful execution and the new British law that just abolished hanging, and visited by a menacing stranger from London who petitions his wife to rent him a room and chats up his shy daughter. When the fifteen-year-old girl mysteriously goes missing, it sets off a search for answers, a shocking case of vigilante justice, and a longing for the good old days of state-run hangings.

Josh Goulding, Ryan Pope, Jeremy Crutchley, Andy Nyman, John Horton, David Threlfall, and Richard Hollis. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Sound funny? Nope. But it is. In signature style, the outrageously hilarious, gruesome, and scathing Hangmen by Anglo-Irish playwright Martin McDonagh – the unsurpassed master of gallows humor (here, literally) – is making its long-awaited Broadway debut for a limited ten-week engagement at the Golden Theatre, following its Olivier Award-winning premiere in London in 2015, its critically acclaimed Off-Broadway run with Atlantic Theater Company in 2018, and a pandemic delay since 2020. McDonagh’s seventh and most recent dark comedy to be produced on Broadway is an over-the-top riotous send-up of arrogance, bigotry, callousness, and capital punishment that had me laughing out loud, shaking my head, and audibly gasping at its incisive mordant humor (as I always do with McDonagh’s razor-sharp work).

Under the killing direction of Olivier-nominated Matthew Dunster, a top-notch cast of twelve delivers the non-stop shocks and acerbic laughs in wildly farcical yet fundamentally familiar portrayals that make a mockery of the characters’ offensive comments, politically incorrect beliefs, toxic behavior, and driving need to feel superior. David Threlfall (returning to Broadway for the first time in 25 years) stars as the laughably imperious and disdainful Harry, who lords over and insults his patrons, vies for supremacy against the even more imperious and disdainful #1 hangman Albert Pierrepoint (played with intimidating hubris by John Hodgkinson), belittles his “moody” daughter Shirley (Gaby French, capturing the teen’s sensitivity and insecurity) along with his wife Alice (an accommodating Tracie Bennett), and takes the law into his own hands, showing some reflection but no remorse for those he executed, whether guilty or not (we’ll never know). They include Josh Goulding’s doomed Hennessy, hopelessly anguished by being put to death for something he didn’t do, as much by as by who’s doing it, leaving Harry to rail, “I’m just as good as bloody Pierrepoint!”

Alfie Allen and David Threlfall. Photo by Joan Marcus.

As the unknown visitor Mooney, co-star Alfie Allen, in his Broadway debut, seamlessly transitions from controlled and enigmatic to seductively charming, then unrestrainedly explosive and threatening, as he reveals alarming secrets unknown to Harry – but not to everyone in his immediate circle. Rounding out the provocatively funny roster of ridiculously flawed characters are the across-the-board excellent Owen Campbell as the fledgling reporter Clegg, who, through a duplicitous suggestion by Mooney, gets the egomaniacal Harry to agree to a revealing newspaper interview; Andy Nyman as the hangman’s incompetent stuttering former assistant Syd, still angry about his dismissal years earlier; and Jeremy Crutchley as Inspector Fry, Richard Hollis as Bill, Ryan Pope as Charlie, and the sidesplitting John Horton as Arthur – the oldest and hardest of hearing of the group of sycophantic barflies, whose comedic timing is nothing short of perfection.

Jeremy Crutchley, Richard Hollis, David Threlfall, Tracie Bennett, Ryan Pope, John Horton, and Owen Campbell. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The incendiary show and audacious performances are supported by dramatic lighting by Joshua Carr and sound by Ian Dickinson, traditional costumes and an Olivier Award-winning set design by Anna Fleischle, which ingeniously transitions from the grim execution holding cell to the old-style pub and the interior of a diner, where two of the plotting figures unexpectedly meet.

After the success of McDonagh’s Oscar-nominated and Golden Globe-winning 2017 film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, it’s great to see his bold sardonic work back live on the Broadway stage; Hangmen is well worth the wait.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 15 minutes, including an intermission.

Hangmen plays through Saturday, June 18, 2022, at the Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $59-179), call (212) 239-6200, or go online. Everyone must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter the building and must wear a mask at all times when inside.


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