Cripple walks again! The return of the king of Connemara
One day in 1993, Laurence Foster opened an envelope on his desk and drew out a short script for a radio play. The first scene involved some winos on a derelict site in London. The second scene involved a violent exchange in a police station. The third scene was a Marx Brothers-style routine, set in outer space.
Foster was then the head of radio drama in RTÉ. The script was completely unproduceable. But there was talent there. He returned the script to the writer with some positive feedback.
Days later, he received another script, from the same, unknown writer. It was, again, utterly unsuited to radio. Foster again returned the script to the writer.
Days later, another script arrived. And a month after that, another. And another. And another.
The writer sent in over 20 plays, in little more than a year. None, as far as Foster could see, were actually radio plays. They were "video scripts", with a "film noir" feel to them, Foster recalls. "He was obviously a film buff."
The writer never acknowledged Foster's personal replies, and then, suddenly, the scripts stopped coming.
Then, in 1995, Garry Hynes returned to Galway's Druid Theatre Company after a stint running the Abbey in Dublin. To get herself settled in, she went to the company's pile of unsolicited scripts and started to read. Soon, she came across a play set in Connemara by an unknown writer.
Within a few pages, she knew she would seek to produce this play. She took the script home with her, and sat reading it at the dinner table, alone. "I felt compelled to read it aloud," she remembers. "I'm not a good actor, but when I did, I was even more certain that I wanted to produce it."
The play was a wild story of a mother and adult daughter in Leenane. She tried to conceive of who could have written it. An old farmer in Connemara, with a secret passion for plays?
Back at the Druid, she asked for more information on the writer. Nothing was known about him -- except that he had an address in London and had sent in two more scripts. Shortly afterwards, Hynes bought the rights to all three.
The writer of all these plays was a 20-something from south London, of Irish parents, named Martin McDonagh. Within a year of Hynes finding his plays, he would be hailed as the latest Irish success in London theatre for The Beauty Queen of Leenane. Within another year, he would have four plays staged in London in the same season -- reportedly the first such writer since Shakespeare.
All these plays, and more, were written in a prodigious burst of activity in his 20s that sustained McDonagh through more than a decade of success since, during which he has made an acclaimed move into film (his short, Six Shooter, won an Oscar, and he gained a further nomination for his script for In Bruges).
The Beauty Queen of Leenane has just opened at the Gaiety in Dublin in a production by London's Young Vic theatre, starring Rosaleen Linehan and Derbhle Crotty, while Druid's hit production of The Cripple of Inishmaan returns to Ireland for four performances in Galway, and two on Inis Meain itself, from June 22 (see druid.ie).
I have mixed opinions on his work: he is a superb writer, but also an uneven one. His scripts have in common a savage sense of humour and a Tarantino-like talent for violent excess, but this isn't always harnessed to a compelling human tale. Still, he is an exciting and audacious writer. And the audacity of his prodigious success rivals even that of his imagination.