Going into the theatrical performance of Cripple of Inishmaan, I found myself wondering how they planned to stage a number of things. I’m not very good at coming up with staging ideas so I found myself at a loss for ideas on how to block more complex scenes, such as Billy’s monologue in the hotel room and when Babbybobby attacked Billy with the lead pipe, but one thing that I was really excited to see become realized was the actual manifestation of Billy’s ailments.
The play doesn’t give much detail about Billy’s physical deformities. It only mentions that he shuffles from place to place, leaving the play wide open for interpretation. I had no idea what to picture Billy like physically because there simply weren’t enough physical characteristics given to me so I was excited by the opportunity to see the play and experience someone else’s idea of what Billy moved like and how his body appeared.
In the theatrical version of the play, the first time we saw Billy, it was a bit of a shock. There was a rather startling thudding noise from offstage which the audience quickly learned was Cripple Billy. He limped heavily with one leg straight and one leg bent awkwardly, foot off to the side. The movement was labored and difficult to watch. One arm swung back and forth, as if to propel Billy forward, and one was tucked into a contorted sort of knot in his chest. The physical display was very present and imposing onstage, and it demanded attention. The actor playing Billy never faltered in his portrayal, staying committed to the appearance of physical deformity the entire time.
After the play I had a chance to talk to Jayne Decker and ask her how she worked with the actor who played Billy, Aaron Verrill, to create the look of disfigurement. She said they started simply by reviewing photos of different disfigurements, drawing much of their inspiration from cerebral palsy. The twisted and bent in arm was their starting point. Jayne asked if Aaron could maintain the arm and hand placement throughout the play and once he decided he could it became the centerpiece for the rest of the body.
Next, Aaron was given leg weights so he could practice walking with a heavy limp and drag. The leg weights were kept through practice to help Aaron learn to walk as though his legs were stunted or damaged in some way, though they were eventually removed and not present during the actual performances. The practice with the leg weights enabled Aaron to act as though he was moving with damaged legs.
After having seen the play and having seen someone else’s manifestation of Cripple Billy, I think I would have done something very similar. I just might have tried to add some kind of tick or twitch if possible to add to audience and character discomfort. There is little you can do to hinder an actor’s ability to move while also keeping them functional, especially since in this case Billy has to be able to shuffle and carry books among other things. Along with that, actor comfort is also a concern. If the person playing the character can’t maintain his posture it simply won’t work. I think Jayne had a great interpretation of Cripple Billy in her performance of Cripple of Inishmaan.