First published in The Times, Wednesday July 13
The “West” in this case refers to Leenane in deepest County Galway, yet there is also something of the lawless frontier about Martin McDonagh’s Connemara. As imagined by the acclaimed playwright, the quaint Irish village is a hotbed of murder, domestic violence and dismemberment. As the hapless Father Welsh (Michael Dylan) has it: “I’d have to kill half me relatives to fit into this town.”
The final instalment in McDonagh’s trilogy of pitch black comedies continues in the same macabre vein as The Beauty Queen of Leenane and A Skull in Connemara. The focus this time round is on a pair of middle-aged brothers, Coleman (Keith Fleming) and Valene (David Ganly), who are living together in a rundown cottage, having recently lost their father in a mysterious “accident”.
Pic: John Johnston
Were it not for the claustrophobic realism of Michael Taylor’s set (a kitchen-cum-living room stuffed with shabby furniture) the hostile, inter-reliant relationship at the heart of this play would place us firmly in Beckett territory. Valene has the whip hand, having inherited the family property and money, which he fritters away on religious figurines and lifestyle magazines. Coleman, whom his brother apparently keeps around the place merely to alleviate his loneliness, is reduced to begging for a share in Valene’s “potcheen” (Irish moonshine) and subsists on vol-au-vents stolen from funeral teas.
As ever, the impact here derives from the shock of seemingly harmless banter suddenly giving way to bursts of grotesque violence. One minute Coleman is teasing Valene about his kitsch tastes, the next he’s roasting his brother’s prized collection of Virgin Mary statuettes in his brand new oven (gas mark 10). To add to this outrage, Welsh, the brothers’ alcoholic, depressive moderator, despairingly plunges his hands into the mess of molten plastic.
Pic: John Johnston
Such stomach-churning moments are interspersed with meandering, at times richly detailed conversations about everything from death, hell and purgatory to (literally) the price of crisps. Andy Arnold’s precisely directed and performed production (Fleming and Ganly are superb as the warring brothers) contains its fair share of amusing moments and even the odd, unexpectedly lyrical observation courtesy of Dylan’s anguished priest.
Nonetheless, there’s something of the law of diminishing returns about McDonagh’s play, which resorts in the end to simply repeating the same slapstick routine to increasingly wearying effect. While The Lonesome West may make a certain sense within the context of the wider trilogy, as a standalone piece it feels slight and ultimately rather gratuitous.