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Martin McDonagh’s darkly hilarious 1997 play comes to The Olympia Theatre with Pat Shortt in the lead role for three weeks.

Most people probably first heard of Martin McDonagh ten years ago, following the release of his Oscar-nominated debut feature film In Bruges. However, McDonagh had already built up an impressive career as a playwright long before then.

Fans of McDonagh’s films will love finally getting to see this production back on stage in Ireland. His writing style has stayed remarkably singular in the 20 years between this play and his most recent work; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. When watching A Skull in Connemara, one of McDonagh’s earliest plays, it is evident that he has been mastering the craft of darkly hilarious dialogue for a long time.

The story follows a local gravedigger, Mick Dowd (Pat Shortt), and rumours about his involvement in the sudden death of his late wife seven years earlier. Throughout the play, Mick is accompanied (and annoyed) by a nosey neighbour (Maria McDermottroe), troublesome teenager (Jarlath Tivnan), and ambitious Guard (Patrick Ryan).

However, the play is not so concerned with story, with most of its scenes focussed on the witty character exchanges we expect from McDonagh. The chemistry between the four actors is magnetic, you immediately believe that these people have known (and loathed) each other for years.

The production was directed by Andrew Flynn and features set design by Irish Times Theatre Award winners Owen McCarthaigh and Sinead McKenna. The set design is simple but effective, the graveyard set almost borders on surreal without taking you out of the realism of the story.

Flynn assembled an excellent group of actors to play characters who remind you of actual people from rural Irish towns. They nail the tone of McDonagh’s writing, the masterful balance between black comedy and genuine drama.

Shortt is great in the main role, playing it straighter than you might expect from the comedian. However, the real standout is Tivnan as Martin Hanlon, the slightly thick teenager recruited to assist Mick with digging up the graves. Tivnan excels at playing the most comic character without ever overplaying it.

Hopefully this production is successful enough so that McDonagh’s other Irish plays can be staged over here again. So if you’re a fan of McDonagh’s other work, get a ticket before the show closes on 1st September.



By Peter Comiskey