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8th July 2013, 2:56pm
Lincoln professor reveals history behind Daniel Radcliffe’s West End production
Daniel Radcliffe A leading professor from the University of Lincoln has provided the fascinating background story for The Cripple of Inishmaan, the latest production to take the West End by storm.

Starring Daniel Radcliffe as the title character and written by Hollywood screenwriter, playwright and filmmaker Martin McDonagh, the play has re-opened in London’s West End following years of success at the National Theatre, and in New York and Los Angeles.

The dark comedy, set on the small Aran Islands community of Inishmaan off the Western Coast of Ireland, was inspired by real-life events that saw controversial documentary film-maker, Robert Flaherty, land on the island in 1933. Internationally renowned as the modern father of documentary, Flaherty arrived with his substantial film crew to create a feature film depicting peasant life on the islands.

The Cripple of Inishmaan narrates the fictional story of “cripple” Billy Claven, as he vies for a part in the Hollywood film – inspired by Flaherty’s resulting documentary, Man of Arran.

Professor Brian Winston, Lincoln Chair at the University of Lincoln, was invited to provide the intriguing history that inspired McDonagh’s play, and the lasting legacy of Flaherty’s work, in the theatre programme.

Speaking following the premiere of The Cripple of Inishmaan, Professor Winston said: “To be approached by the National Theatre to contribute to the play’s programme materials was extremely surprising. My research into Robert Flaherty’s time on the island centres around the reception of his film and the effect of the documentary on its inhabitants, so I am delighted to be able to provide audiences with information on the fascinating backdrop that inspired McDonagh’s production.

“McDonagh’s play observes important issues of national and political stereotype, which are still extremely pertinent in society today, and jokes about them throughout. It is beautifully played and extremely humorous, and because of this, it has been well received across the board; by the public, the media and Flaherty scholars alike.”  

Professor Winston has conducted extensive academic research into Robert Flaherty and his momentous influence on today’s film industry. In 2011, Professor Winston wrote and co-produced A Boatload of Wild Irishmen, an award-winning feature-length film exploring the moral complexities of Flaherty and his contentious techniques.

The title of Professor Winston’s Boatload refers to one of Flaherty’s most controversial moments, which occurred during his production of Man of Arran.  For its climax, he filmed the documentary’s subjects battling the dangerous Atlantic sea in a frail boat.

Professor Winston said: “Flaherty was the first to work out how to transform film of real people going about their everyday lives from mere shapeless surveillance-camera observation into a dramatic, enthralling narrative: and that, in essence, is what documentary is. This was a brilliant breakthrough, but it can cause real moral dilemmas. He gained a reputation for gambling with his subjects’ safety, and faced accusations of unprofessional working practices, exploitation of people and inauthenticity; however the footage he produced was pioneering and undeniably beautiful.”

“Flaherty discovered how to provide a window onto our world, years before real-life events could be detailed exactly as and when they happen, and The Cripple of Inishmaan explores the effect of these discoveries on the subjects of his films.”

The Cripple of Inishmaan is now playing at the Noel Coward Theatre in London until Saturday 31st August 2013.

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