Thursday, 28 May 2015

Review A Skull in Connemara: Nottingham Playhouse

Make no bones about it - this production of A Skull in Connemara by Martin McDonagh at Nottingham Playhouse is a bloody cracking play. Directed by Fiona Buffini it allows for plenty of slow burning craic in the first half and really steps up the drunken murderous pace in the second. It is also such a wonderful story with more twists and turns than a shattered pelvis bone that this reviewer feels acutely spoiler shy.

The moody set of a lonely cottage interior sitting among the darkening misty coastal hills of rural Ireland is superbly created by award winning designer Madeleine Girling. The house is finely detailed even to the point of having a fire burning in the grate and smoke rising from the chimney above. Girling also takes us to a bleak graveyard where the hero Mick (Ged McKenna) digs up human bones from the graves to make room for more bodies. This is well realised with soil coming up by the spade full and we hear a chilling cracking sound as the flimsy coffins are broken into.

A Skull in Connemara is a short play at under two hours.The scripting is super economic, genuinely funny and like McDonagh's other plays and film In Bruges it has a poetic stream of pitch black tragic comedy running through it. There is even a 'gobshite's glossary' in the programme explaining some of the Irish slang and swear words! On a serious note the play touches upon the loneliness, regret and remorse of the main character Mick Dowd who often sits alone in his cottage knocking back a potent Irish spirit made from fermented potatoes called Poteen. Getting drunk is Mick's way of dealing with the death of his wife Oona who was killed in a car crash seven years ago. Rumours about the true cause of her death have been a constant source of malign gossip in the local community. Did Mick's drunk driving kill her or was her death deliberate? It is a grave matter for all. What will they find when they dig up her bones? Is there some devilish Skulduggery going on in Connemara?


Peopled with just four actors McDonagh's play gives plenty of scope for characterisation and given that most of the time the majority of them are fall down wobbly from the Poteen they all do a brilliant job of keeping the drunken scenes real. As Mick Dowd, actor Ged McKenna pulls out all the stops (and bones) with a solid and very believable performance as the duplicitous widower. The only woman in the play is the strangely named Maryjohnny and her cunning and cadging nature is terrifically drawn out with an understated and grubby clothed presentation by actress Paddy Glynn.

Diversely motivated brothers Thomas and Mairtin (Paul Carroll and Rhys Dunlop) complete the foursome. Thomas is the local Garda who dreams of being a great police detective but fails to see the blindingly obvious criminal scenes in front of him. The dim cop is comically realised by Carroll but even his comedy has a devilishly strong vein of secret cruelty – this in a man that is supposed to represent the law abiding side of their community.

On the opposite side of the law there is naughty boy Mairtin - a cunning eejit constantly correcting his potty mouth in front of Granny Maryjohnny. Dunlop brings great energy to Mairtin's quasi likeable character and is brilliantly funny in every one of his entrances – especially the unexpected one. In fact that is what is so delightful about this rarely performed play – the aspects of the unexpected.

A Skull in Connemara abounds with deceptively simple characters and situations that draw you into their world almost as a smugly amused observer. Then just as you are toasting your toes by the lovely warm cottage fire someone throws a proverbial firework into the flames and everything you expected to happen explodes unexpectedly around you! Head to Nottingham Playhouse to see this beauty of a pitch black Irish comedy while you can. Oh and there's a biteen of swearing, so there is now.
Credit for the feel of the show should also be given to lighting designer Ian Scott, sound designer: Adam P MCready and fight director Philip D'Orleans.

Runs at Nottingham Playhouse until 6th June 2015

Review originally written for The Public Reviews website May 27th 2015

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