Review - Theatre: A Skull in Connemara, Gaiety Theatre
The myth of an idyllic rural Ireland populated by loveable eccentrics, particularly dear to the hearts of Americans, was in dire need of being exploded, and Martin McDonagh's theatre work from the 90s was certainly a major part of that debunking.
Seventeen years on, and a Skull In Connemara, the second of the Leenane Trilogy, does little apart from show us an Irish countryside populated with stupid, squalid, ignorant, violent headcases, rather than the cast of The Quiet Man.
McDonagh's script, full of a stinging delight in itself, is self-consciously black and packed with nastiness. But while there are a few sharp intakes of breath around the house, we're never less shocked than when someone's out to shock us. It all feels rather juvenile, particularly when young Mairtín, played by Jarlath Tivnan like a cross between Graham Norton and Gollum, is gleefully spouting about road deaths, children drowned in slurry, and boiling hamsters alive.
McDonagh was dubbed the Quentin Tarantino of the stage by an American critic, but if so, someone's put valium in the poteen. It's not until the second act, when Mairtín, covered in blood from a head wound, arrives to interrupt Garda Thomas strangling the gravedigger Mick, or when both he and Mick are hammering disinterred bones to dust, that things get Tarantinoesque.
Up until then, we have very static staging, in a static, though ingenious and substantial set (from Owen MacCarthaigh), with slow-moving dialogue, mostly involving Mairtín, Mick and the garda baiting each other. There's even more ponderous, though more satisfying baiting between Mick and MaryJohnny, Mairtín's granny, who regularly calls on Mick to sip his poteen.
Andrew Flynn's cast are an excellent quartet, and MaryJohnny, played by Maria McDermottroe, is a particularly brilliant characterisation, a typical religious bigot, completely self-satisfied in her backwardness.
But it's Garrett Keogh's Mick who really transcends the delighted self-consciousness of the script and saves Flynn's revival from being anything more than a McDonagh period piece.
Mick is responsible for digging up the bones in the graveyard to make room for more burials, and has long been suspected of killing his wife, whose remains are among those he has to relocate.
We never find out if this self-contained but inscrutably indulgent man is guilty, but this beautifully equivocal character is certainly capable of anything, as Mairtín's head wound testifies.