Review: Lonesome West at the Royal Court Theatre

by Nigel Smith MARTIN McDonagh has made gallows humour his stock in trade, most recently in a literal sense with his West End smash hit Hangmen. Lonesome West is the final instalment of his Leenane trilogy and was first co-produced by Druid Theatre Galway and that other Royal Court in London almost 20 years ago. Set in a remote village in Connemara the play has a body count that, in comparison to the small cast of four players, would have impressed Shakespeare. It’s the ever increasing number of accidental deaths, murders and suicides that both provides the driver for the story and the root of the comedic material. Two warring brothers Valeen and Coleman have just returned from their father’s funeral and they’re joined by the local priest Father Welsh, suffering a crisis of faith, and hard-talking teenager Girleen, who supplements her family’s income by selling Poteen. Valeen and Coleman will, seemingly, argue about anything, whether it’s the price or ownership of a packet of crisps, Valeen’s multiplying collection of religious figurines or the necessity of a new stove. When a local man commits suicide in what turns out to be a popular local method, we begin to discover the darker secrets that lie beneath the surface of their arguments. Royal Court audiences will be familiar with Paul Duckworth and Keiran Cunningham, who make a tremendous double act as Valeen and Coleman. Cunningham glowers from his chair as Duckworth scurries about the stage in a constant state of agitated domesticity. On the arrival of Alan Devally’s Father Welsh an unholy trinity is established and, with Robert Farquhar’s direction playing heavily for the humour, it’s impossible not to be reminded of a certain sitcom trio, with Devally’s performance having more than a hint of Ardal O’Hanlon’s Father Dougal in his character’s exasperated lack of grip. The shorter first act sets up the situation and it’s after the interval that the writing digs deeper into the history of the characters to find the heart of the play and bring it to its tragicomic ending. The opening scene of act 2 is an extended piece of dialogue for Father Welsh and Anne O’Riordan’s Girleen, in which the story takes an even darker turn, and both deliver outstanding performances in what becomes one of the most poignant parts of the writing. As always the Court have gone for solid realism in Olivia De Monceau’s hefty yet detailed set, which gives us a dilapidated cottage set against a desolate backdrop, where the looming clouds seem to portend ensuing tragedies. The Royal Court promised a change from their staple of uproarious homegrown comedy, and they have certainly achieved that, but the play pulls no punches with its dialogue and Robert Farquhar has taken care to lean his direction toward the comedic rather than the dramatic. Lonesome West is a perfect piece to grace the stage until the theatre closes its doors for the next phase of its redevelopment over the summer. Lonesome West continues at the Royal Court until 20th May.