The Lonesome West

[author-post-rating] (3/5 Stars)

The Lonesome West is set in the dysfunctional community of Leenane, Galway, where petty squabbles, drunkenness and crisis of faith abound. The play is darkly comic where murder and suicide are discussed with flippancy and levity and the Catholic church is thoroughly lampooned. The play predominantly revolves around the dysfunctional relationship of two brothers: Coleman and Valene. The former attends funerals to get free vol-au-vents and the latter is obsessed with collecting religious iconography.

The audience soon learns that Coleman shot their father for criticising his hairstyle. Not to miss a trick, Valene blackmails his brother in order to take up possession of their father’s house and his belongings. This provides a platform for continuous squabbling and fighting at the tiniest provocation. John Andrews and Jack BK, who play Coleman and Valene respectively, take these battles to fever pitch and this intensity is maintained throughout the performance.

The two brothers’ slapstick fighting and bickering is expertly juxtaposed by Allen Turing’s understated performance of the maudlin Father Roderick Welsh, a drunken and disillusioned clergyman. Father Welsh’s crises of faith are as frequent as the brother’s fights and ultimately results in him betting his soul on them to reconcile. The resulting exchange of confession between the brothers, and its violent conclusion, only confirms their perpetually destructive existence.

Lucy Skinner’s Girleen, a capricious and strong-willed teen, creates a palpable tension when flirting with Father Welsh and after the latter’s death, the audience is left wondering exactly what the future might hold for her.

The University of Sussex Drama Society bring a vibrancy and energy to the production. Aside from a few fluffed lines – which are understandable due to the lengthy exchanges between the characters – and a few slips in the Irish accent the actors adopt, the play is confidently, and refreshingly, performed.

A slight issue concerns the fact that the play is the third in a trilogy. Characters are referenced that the audience never meet from the previous two plays which creates a sense of incompleteness.

The audience could also be forgiven for thinking that McDonagh’s vision of a rural Irish community contains all of the clichés we have come to expect – feckless behaviour, drunken clergy and spirited wenches. Swearing is as common as breathing. However there is an overarching satirical bent to this play that mocks itself and the fantastical community that McDonagh creates allows him to get away with puerile homophobia, racism and church bashing. The audience is an outsider peering in.

In The Lonesome West McDonagh has a tendency to rely on overblown slapstick for laughs and the dialogue is overwrought at times. However these are interspersed with nuggets of truth offering a view, albeit through a somewhat greasy lense, into a microcosm of poverty and destitution.

The Lonesome West is being performed  at The Warren and can be seen again on 15 May. For details see the Brighton Fringe website.