A Skull in Connemara

Martin McDonagh
Love&Madness Ensemble
Riverside Studios
(2009)

Production photo

The abode of Gallic gravedigger Mick Dowd looks like a Transylvanian care home. It is apt, then, that Mick can't remember whether he murdered his wife or not. Such matters grow trivial with age.

This lively pseudo-gothic farce, rich with Gallic idiom and flamboyance, might not offer the musing-on-mortality one suspects from graveyard set-ups, but its wily and brisk comedy serves as ample compensation for any absent gravitas.

As the smart-arse incumbent of an oversubscribed local cemetery, Mick has to annually exhume old punters to make space for new ones. He celebrates these dig-ups by drunkenly smashing up the bones until they become snortable. This he does with the help of a conspiratorial dumb-nut apprentice, Jack Bence's Mairtin.

Jobsworth copper Thomas Hanlon is an asthmatic and relentless idiot with the detective skills of cooked hamster (an entity which, incidentally, had Mairtin wrongfully expelled from school). A frequent symptom of idiocy being ambition, Hanlon seeks promotion so badly that he is willing to break a bone (or skull) to get it. By cracking the cranium of Mick's late wife Oona, Hanlon hopes to nick Mick for murder and rise in the ranks as a result.

The plot, like paddling pools, doesn't have a deep end. It is consciously superficial and has a jaunty 'who done it?' quality, which complements the quick fire ribaldry of McDonagh's writing. There are moments when the play seems to be posing questions about memory, ambition and accusation, though one needn't dig so deeply, for what we see (a well-paced, well-assembled comedy) is largely what we get. This play doesn't do that criminal thing and offer up themes like clunky pork chops. It is self-aware fun, dressed in the corset of a twisting crime thriller.

Native Irishman Dan Mullane, as Mick, captures both the pathos and acerbic wit of a man pushed to the brink by a chorus of gossips and crooks. Lucia McAnespie has fun as Maryjohnny Rafferty, a bingo-whore with legs that don't bend and a thirst that won't quench. Bence and Iarla McGowan (Hanlon) offer decent support and Catriona Craig's direction leaves no comedic stone unturned: timings, inflections and mannerisms are all finely executed.

The last play in the Love&Madness season, A Skull in a Connemara is one of best light-hearted, heavy-tongued comedies I've seen on the fringe this year.

Until 26th July

Reviewer: Ben Aitken