Martin McDonagh’s black comedy opens with gravedigger Mick Dowd having a poitín session in his cottage with his neighbour Maryjohnny Rafferty. Young Mairtin joins them with a message from the priest: Mick is to start exhuming the bodies from the graveyard. The graveyard is full and the dead must be removed to make way for the new crop of burials. The corner to be dug up this time is the place where Mick’s wife Oona was buried. She died in a car crash seven years earlier, with Mick drunk at the wheel. But there are whisperings in the locale that Oona was dead already when the crash happened, and that Mick killed her. This is the tension at the core of the play: an investigation into Mick’s possible guilt. Unlike police investigations which are about fact, theatrical investigations are about nuance, and the audience is left to make up their own mind.
McDonagh writes in a stylised west-of-Ireland idiom, marrying banalities about the weather with a needling aggression, as the characters land verbal blows on each other. Tension builds until the blows become physical. There are echoes of John M Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World in young Mairtin’s being impressed by Mick perhaps having slain his wife. There is Shakespeare in the skull-and-graveyard scene. Quentin Tarantino’s influence is felt in the black humour spilling over into Grand Guignol.
Peacock Theatre, Dublin until Sept 1
Michael West writing for Theatre Lovett creates this modern mutation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, featuring a genesplicing molecular biologist who creates human life from his own DNA. Directed by Muireann Ahern and performed by Louis Lovett. Expect intelligent life.
Andrew Flynn directs for Decadent Theatre Company and Short Comedy Theatre Company. Flynn has assured instincts with the cheeky rhythms and tonal shifts of McDonagh’s lines. Pat Shortt catches all the humour of Mick, while Maria McDermottroe brings a bitter badness to Maryjohnny. Jarlath Tivnan is hilarious as young Mairtin, simultaneously thick and smart; he will be particularly enjoyed by Leaving Cert students.
Owen MacCartháigh’s set design is superb; the cottage of the opening scene, with the visible fault-lines in its walls, collapses to reveal a hillside graveyard, giving the space tremendous dynamism. Sinéad McKenna’s moody lighting adds to the rich visuals, creating dramatic silhouettes and generating atmosphere. Carl Kennedy’s sound design brings a subtly exaggerated element of cinematic tension.
Fans of Shortt will relish his gentle, seething interpretation of Mick. And fans of McDonagh will love the bloody ketchup of the final scenes. But while there are plenty of laughs and plot twists, there is, finally, an emptiness to the play. It forms part of the Leenane Trilogy from 1997, with The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Lonesome West. It was first produced two decades ago, along with the other two plays in an all-day sequence by Druid in Galway. Then, its comic absurdity was propped up by the more emotionally nuanced plays. Standing alone, its fundamental hollowness echoes louder.
I’M TOO FAT FOR
Smock Alley Boys’ School, Dublin, August 20 – 25
American writer-performer Kate Huffman returns to Dublin with her one-woman show. It covers her decades of OCD and eating disorders, using comedy, multimedia and multiple characters to explore issues around the female body. AN EVENING WITH MARIO ROSENSTOCK Theatre Royal, Waterford August 24 & 25
Rosenstock returns to his home town for an evening of sketches featuring his Gift Grub characters from Today FM, including impressions of Leo, Miriam, Paschal and also local legends like John Mullane and John Halligan.