Writer: Martin McDonagh
Director: Robert Farquhar
Reviewer: John Roberts
Moving away from the big, bold and brash scouse comedies that the Royal Court usually produces is a brave move, but there is something very familiar with their choice of producing Irish playwright Martin McDonagh’s darkly comic play The Lonesome West.
Making his Royal Court debut Liverpool based director Robert Farquhar best known for his collaborative work with The Big Wow directs a play that at one point has you laughing in hysterics then almost simultaneously slapping you across the face and telling you “You can’t do that!”
The Lonesome West transports us to a small village in the heart of 1980s Galway. Brothers Valene (Paul Duckworth) and Coleman (Keiran Cunningham) have just buried their father, their relationship is tense and fraught and brings the two siblings to loggerheads on a number of small things including the price of a bag of Tayto crisps. However, beneath the surface of vinyl statues of the saints and bottles of cheap pochine, dark secrets plague the brothers and those closest to them especially the mental health of Alan Devally’s man of the cloth Father Welsh.
Played out on Olivia du Monceau’s bleak and atmospheric set – arguably one of the Court’s finest sets in recent years – this fast-paced production never let’s go of its grip on you, McDonagh’s script lulls you into a false sense of security, the laughs trick you into feeling compassion for the bunch of misfit miscreants and then twists its tight hands so much that you can’t help but feel repulsed by the duo of death.
As the brothers, Duckworth and Cunningham bounce off each other with real panache, their performances are some of the strongest seen on the Roe Street stage in a while and provide the perfect foil for McDonagh’s twisted tale of fate to unravel, likewise Devally’s portrayal of the mentally plagued Father Welsh hits a strong note especially during the emotionally moving second act of the play which balances beautifully with the tender performance from Ann O’Riordan as local girl Girleen, if one was to find fault in the production it would be that occasionally the accents and diction can slip into the mumbled and difficult to hear, a problem especially when hearing the words for the first time.
Director Farquhar has certainly a massive task as director, not only having to find the balance between big laughs and the darker moments in the play, but also having the unenviable task of trying to please a theatre audience that likes its entertainment bold and brash, however, he succeeds beautifully. The Lonesome West proves that the court can do serious and do it exceedingly well and if the venue started to programme a few more shows like this in its season of work instead of constant revivals of past work, then they will see a whole new audience start to frequent the venue.
Runs until 20 May 2017 | Image: Contributed