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A Skull in Connemara

Updated: May 11, 2022

Martin McDonagh

Oldham Coliseum Company

Oldham Coliseum Theatre

22 February 2019 - 9 March 2019, 1hr 58min including interval

John O'Dowd as Mick in Martin McDonagh's A Skull in Connemara at Oldham Coliseum. All pics: Joel Chester Fildes
John O'Dowd as Mick in Martin McDonagh's A Skull in Connemara at Oldham Coliseum. All pics: Joel Chester Fildes

There really isn't any voice quite like that of Martin McDonagh on stage today, creating work at the same time edgy, darkly hilarious, rich in its language and as mysterious as the wild rural Ireland in which many of his stories take place.

McDonagh (of Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri fame) , a Londoner of Irish heritage who spent summers with Irish relatives, captures a rural Ireland that almost, but not quite, descends into caricature.

His people speak inconsequentially but deeply of the weather; take gloriously silly flight on riffs about drowning in unpleasant substances, brood deeply on slights, and take revenge brutally and without considerations of legality – even the local Garda.

This black comedy literally offers a new definition of graveside humour. The skull (and other parts of the skeleton) here belong to the late wife of local gravedigger Mick (John O'Dowd, last seen at the Coliseum in English Touring Theatre's The Weir). Local malice suggests Mick killed her, when in fact she died in a car accident and he has mourned her with poteen ever since. This is not a storyline you would be likely to find from any other author, but McDonagh steers a course that mixes wonderful comic dialogue with really dark events quite brilliantly.

The local graveyard needs some exhumations to free space for new interments, and awkwardly, the late Mrs D is on the list. Except her remains are not where he left them seven years before.

Who took her? Could it have been young Mairtin (Liam Heslin) - the not very bright, tearaway younger brother of local gardee Thomas (Griffin Stevens), now helping Mick to exhume the bodies?

And while we're at it, does Mick really re-inter the bones respectfully in the local lake - or does he perhaps dispose of them another way, maybe smashing them with a mallet then sweeping them up with a dustpan and brush? Designer Katie Scott's rundown living room/graveyard set certainly looks like dead people regularly sweep through...

Chris Lawson's production bundles along with the trademark hilarious melancholy that pervades McDonagh's earlier works. Whether Mick is discussing bingo-fiddling tricks with Mairtin's gran MaryJohnny (Jenny Lee) or the tricks of the detective trade with Thomas, the utter oddness of the dialogue shines hilariously through. There is perhaps an uneasy (and rather hard to hear) first few minutes but the cast quickly achieves a rhythm and act two is darkly comic, with all four actors on top 'o the mornin form.


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