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National Theatre: Hangmen (cert15)
23 March
7:15 pm to 10:30 pm

National Theatre Live Cinema Hampshire presents Hangman…“The Funniest Play In London Right Now”. Following a sell-out run at London’s Royal Court Theatre, Olivier and Academy Award® winner Martin McDonagh (The Pillowman, The Cripple of Inishmaan, In Bruges) returns to the West End with Matthew Dunster’s award-winning production of his deeply funny new play.

In his small pub in the northern English town of Oldham, Harry (David Morrissey – The Walking Dead, State of Play) is something of a local celebrity. But what’s the second-best hangman in England to do on the day they’ve abolished hanging?
Amongst the cub reporters and pub regulars dying to hear Harry’s reaction to the news, his old assistant Syd (Andy Nyman – Peaky Blinders, Death at a Funeral) and the peculiar Mooney (Johnny Flynn – Clouds of Sils Maria) lurk with very different motives for their visit.


The World of Hangmen from The National Theatre Blog…


The Hangmen company. Photo by Tristram Kenton

Although the plot of Hangmen is fictional, the world of the play and its characters are grounded solidly in fact. Here are five points that blur the line between fact and fiction.

The year

The Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act was passed in Parliament in 1965, abolishing the death penalty for murder in Great Britain. The Act didn’t include four capital offences: high treason, piracy with violence, arson in royal dockyards and espionage; and the death penalty was not completely abolished in the UK until 1998 by the Human Rights Act and the Crime and Disorder Act. Still, we wouldn’t recommend treason any time soon.


David Morrissey as Harry. Photo by Helen Maybanks

The two Harrys

‘Guillotine’s quick but guillotine’s messy and French. Who’d go for that in Durham?’

Whilst the play’s Harry Wade was not a real hangman, his namesake Harry Allen was. Allen was Chief Executioner at 41 hangings, and carried out Britain’s last hanging in 1964 at Strangeways Prison in Manchester. He also performed the last hangings in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Like the character named after him, he was fond of a bow tie, and always wore one to executions as a sign of respect.


Andy Nyman as Syd and John Hodgkinson as Pierrepoint. Photo by Helen Maybanks

Albert Pierrepoint

Unlike Harry Wade, his rival Albert Pierrepoint was a real hangman. He was born in 1905, and both his father and uncle were also executioners. He eventually joined the family business in 1932. There’s no evidence of a rivalry between Pierrepoint and Allen over how many men each had hanged – but, if there were, there’s a clear winner: Pierrepoint hanged over 400 people.

Despite (or perhaps because of) those numbers, he said in his memoirs that he felt capital punishment was no deterrent:

‘All the men and women whom I have faced at that final moment convince me that in what I have done I have not prevented a single murder.’

Hangmen in the public eye

In the play, Harry is interviewed by the local press on the day hanging is abolished. Like him, Britain’s hangmen didn’t shy away from the public eye. Several of them wrote books about their experiences: John Ellis’ Diary of a Hangman (hangman from 1901 to 1924), Syd Dernley’s The Hangman’s Tale (1949 to 1952), and Pierrepoint’s memoirs, Executioner: Pierrepoint.


The Hangmen company. Photo by Helen MaybanksThe places in the play

Many of the places in the play are real: it’s set in Oldham and mentions a trip to Formby, a seaside town about an hour and a half’s drive away. Even the more precise location is based in fact. The action of the play mainly takes place in Harry Wade’s pub – and, as in the play, both Harry Allen and Albert Pierrepoint ran pubs. Not somewhere you’d want to fall foul of the landlord.

The doors open at 6.30pm for a 7.15pm start.

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Entrance by Tickets only £12.50 Adults  £7.50 15 & Under

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