DramaNorth WestReview

A Skull In Connemara – Oldham Coliseum

Writer:  Martin McDonagh

Director:  Chris Lawson

Martin McDonagh was already an established playwright and writer of several Indie screen classics when his award-winning film, Three Billboards OutsideEbbing, Missouri, brought him overnight fame and World-wide attention in 2017. As a young writer in his mid-twenties, McDonagh emerged as an enfant terrible of the British theatre scene with his highly acclaimed Leenane Trilogy. The plays, all set in Connemara, depict the harsh realities of life in rural Western Ireland. With their bleak and claustrophobic settings, dysfunctional characters and moments of gratuitous violence, McDonough’s plays have often been compared to the barbarous and barbaric American Wild West.

A Skull in Connemara is the middle play in McDonagh’s Leenane Trilogy.  It is sometimes overlooked in favour of the other two plays in the series but of the three is arguably the most accomplished and compelling. At the heart of the play is poteen drinking Mick Dowd, a middle-aged gravedigger, who exhumes bodies in the local graveyard to make space for new ones. The play begins with Mick and his neighbours, two brothers, (one of whom is the local Garda), and their Grandmother talking about village gossip and the weather. Quickly the tone of the play changes as poised to exhume his late wife; rumours about Mick’s involvement in her mysterious death intensify.

McDonagh is the master of anarchic and subversive personal drama; he weaves and manipulates action to create moments of real tension that cast huge shadows over his characters, calling into question their actions, behaviours and morals. In the play all of the characters frailties are laid bare; the Starsky & Hutchobsessed Garda accuses Mick of murdering his wife and the elderly Maryjohnny Rafferty cannot escape accusations from her grandson that she has routinely cheated at the Church bingo. Within such a tight-knit rural community there really is no place to hide and as Mick comes closer to digging up the grave of his wife speculation runs rife that he killed her in cold blood. When he digs into her grave and discovers that her remains are missing the rumour mill goes into overdrive.

Under Chris Lawson’s deft direction, the small hardworking company provide a fascinating portrait of an isolated community turned in on itself. McDonagh has written four larger than life characters and under Lawson’s spirited direction his actors succeed in bringing each of these vividly to life. As Mick, John O’Dowd is softly spoken but possess a steely, almost heroic like quality that enables him to more than hold his own when confronted by the bullying Garda Officer, superbly played here by Griffin Stevens and the gossip mongering, Maryjohnny, a wonderfully detailed and nuanced performance from the consummate, Jenny Lee. As the younger brother, Liam Heslin’s portrayal of comic, feckless naivety is a real joy to behold and when combined with occasional moments of tenderness and vulnerability is profoundly moving.

Katie Scott’s simple but extremely effective set moves effortlessly from the interior of Mick’s run down cottage to the bleak, chilly, soil split graveyard and combined with Stewart Bartles subdued lighting and Dan Bottomley’s haunting soundtrack provides the perfect backdrop for this impressive production. A trip to see this absorbing play before its short run finishes is highly recommended.

Runs until Saturday 9 March 2019 | Image:  Contributed

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The North West team is under the editorship of John Roberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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