Left – Marg Downey and Chris Bunworth. Photo – Lachlan Woods
The playwright who says he prefers screenwriting, Irish born Martin McDonagh, has the gift (Yes, that gift). McDonagh’s talent is for telling twisted Irish folk tales in an almost anti-style, where the genre is not one thing or another. He’s been compared to Tim Burton, and the Boston Globe described him as the ‘Quentin Tarantino of the stage.’ Melbourne Theatre Company staged his play A Behanding in Spokane last year. Director David Cameron handles A Skull in Connemara, the second in the Kin Collective’s full season of McDonagh’s The Leenane Trilogy.
A Skull in Connemara is an unexpected ride through some not-so-folksy rural Irish culture, mixing black comedy and farce with a closely observed sense of a small community. The villagers, Mary (Marg Downey), Mick Dowd (Chris Bunworth), Mairtian (Tom Barton) and Pete (Thomas Hanlon) seem confined and stuck with one another, living claustrophobic lives drinking poteen and making banal conversation. The Troubles seem close to the surface, not directly mentioned or even alluded to, but a sense of chaotic violence under the narrative threatens to burst out in gunfire at any moment.
There isn’t a set time period, although it might always be the 70s in Connemara. Long held grudges and suspicions held by intense characters with not enough to occupy their minds, their souls inadequately catered for by the ever-absent Father Walsh (or Welsh?), threaten to destabilise the community. Christopher Bunworth’s Mick Dowd, a gruff grave digger whose wife passed away seven years ago prior to the time of the story has the unfortunate job of exhuming bodies to make space for new graves and is left to dispose of the remains as he sees fit. Unlikely as this may sound, the play creates a world where such a thing may be commonplace.
A Skull in Connemara is fairly bristling with subtext. The dialogue is drawn out; the inane details of small lives lived in a tiny rural town presented in such a way you feel the fog closing in. The characters are like something out of Ballykissangel; they are neighbours who seem barely to know each other despite long familiarity, like relatives you’ve known all your life but whose interior life remains secret. There is a live very ‘noir’ sound score and a gothic decaying quality to the set, creating a sense of artificiality – are we supposed to take things seriously or not? The whole is hard to read, it’s at once blackly funny and weirdish, poignant, kitsch, violent and surprisingly disarming. This is not live TV and nothing is wrapped up neatly at the end, and although this staging is uneven in tone, the plot, performances and narrative drive do ultimately satisfy.
Kin Collective presents
A Skull in Connemara
by Martin McDonagh
Directed by David Cameron
Venue: fortyfivedownstairs | 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Dates: 4 – 7 June, 2014
Tickets: $36 – $28, Trilogy Sunday (all three shows) $85, Trilogy Pass (all three plays, excludes Sunday performances) $84
Bookings: www.fortyfivedownstairs.com | 03 9662 9966
Presented by Kin Collective as part of THE LEENANE TRILOGY
The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Thu 29 – Sun 31 May, 8pm
The Lonesome West, Wed 11 – Sat 14 Jun (Preview Tue 10 Jun), 8pm
Trilogy Sundays, (all three plays, includes lunch & refreshments, veg. option avail.) Sun 1, 8 & 15 Jun, 1pm (ends 7pm)