THEATRE; The Leenane Trilogy Royal Court, London
Monday 28 July 1997
Don't get me wrong. I'm not knocking heartlessness. It's just that, unlike a writer such as Joe Orton, who had the courage of his comic callousness and a ruthlessly logical outsider-vision of the world, McDonagh opts for the less honourable course of giving the heart-strings the odd strum before systematically snapping them. And despite the heavy symbolism of the crucifix that dangles over all three of Gary Hynes's zestfully acted productions, he takes only sniggering pot-shots at Catholic culture, on the level of references to pervy priests and a plot line, in the last play, that has a despairingly ineffective cleric imagine that his suicide may perform the miracle of reconciling two violently feuding brothers. But it all seems very shallow compared, say, with Orton's lethally penetrating take on Christianity ("a bird of prey carrying an olive branch") in Funeral Games.
McDonagh's best work to date remains The Beauty Queen of Leenane, the play that kicks off the trilogy and which won acclaim last year when it was seen solo. In it, a middle-aged spinster (excellent Marie Mullen) eventually kills her possessive canny tyrant of a mother for reasons that are dramatised with a powerful ambiguity. By contrast, in the last play, The Lonesome West (echoes of Sam Shepard), the rancidly volatile central relationship between two brothers is the result of an act of parricide that took place in the past and was a ludicrous case of over-reaction to paternal criticism ("getting your haircut insulted is no just cause to go murdering someone").
This is some indication of the way the plays decline into high-energy, repetitive cartoon: where, in a simultaneous cheeky nod to Playboy of the Western World and to the physical resilience of Tom & Jerry, a gullible youth in A Skull in Connemara can stagger in bloodstained after sustaining dreadful injuries in a drunk driving crash and stick around long enough to save the skin of his would-be murderer, turn the tables on his cop brother who bashes him with a mallet, and engage in conversation about the "puffiness" of going to hospital and about "bumpy rides" at leisure centres, before eventually aiming dizzily for the door. The violence of the plays is self-relishingly out of proportion to its implied sociological causes: the ingrownness of a remote, gossip-greedy community (or lack of community). I found myself fervently hoping that McDonagh did not keep pets as a child.
Hynes's actors all give vivid, strong characterisations - especially Brian F O'Byrne who is in all three plays and offers remarkably varied portraits of gauche decency, hilariously self-important incompetence and demented drippiness. In one play, he has to receive the news of the suicide of the man whose role he performed in the preceding one - indicative of the way McDonagh tries to convince you this is a trilogy by having each new set of characters gossip about people we have already encountered or have yet to meet. But there's no sense of spiritual progression. One isn't asking for the Oresteia, just some position where the alternative to cynicism wasn't sentimentality and which you didn't feel would be undermined yet again if the author had time. Welcome to the world of Martin McDonagh? No, on this showing, you're welcome to the world of Martin McDonagh.
Downstairs at the Duke of York's, St Martin's Lane, London WC2. `The Beauty Queen of Leenane', Fri, Sat mat; `A Skull in Connemara' Wed, Thurs, Sat mat; `The Lonesome West', Sat, Mon, Tues (Booking to 13 Sept: 0171- 565 5000)
Life & Style blogs
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove
Rupert Murdoch berated Sun journalists for not doing enough to attack Ed Miliband and stop him winning the general election
- 1 Sofyen Belamouadden murder: The inside story of a crime that horrified Britain
- 2 How to turn off/stop 'seen by' on Facebook: Disable it to make your chats seem less passive aggressive
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 4 'We're not heroes, just tourists': Swedish police officers on holiday stop vicious assault on New York subway
- 5 Buckingham Palace guard who attacked passers-by in 'most most violent piece of CCTV footage' police officer had seen walks free
£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...
£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...
Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...
£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...