A Skull in Connemara describes itself as a ‘pitch black comedy’ and, in a nutshell, that is exactly what it is. Written by Martin McDonagh, a British–Irish playwright known for the Leenane Trilogy and the Aran Islands Trilogy, the play follows four people in the Connemara district, gravedigger Mick, his elderly friend Maryjohnny and her two grandsons, local youth Mairtin and local policeman Thomas.
Initially set in Mick’s warm, small living room, the characters engage in humorous and realistic conversation as they debate the cause of death of Mick’s wife, Oona. Settled as a simple drink-driving accident seven years ago, rumours in the village suggest that there may be a darker explanation for her death, involving Mick and a possible bludgeoned skull …
As the play develops, we see Mick and Mairtin hired to exhumate the graveyard where Oona is buried, policeman Thomas arriving to oversee. Fixated on inane detective work such as deciphering the suspicious circumstances of why a deceased overweight man would have only a lettuce in his fridge, Thomas’s failings as a copper and the tense atmosphere as Mick prepares to dig up his beloved wife ensure hilarity ensues.
An exciting evening of ‘fancy skull-battery’
With the first act building slowly and based mainly around subtle exposition and conversation, apart from some laddish behaviour in the graveyard, it is a relief in the second act to find the play’s pace has greatly increased. With sparks of hilariousness as Mick and Mairtin getting steadily drunker, the second act especially is engaging and entertaining. With the plot twisting more and more as the play continues, there is the right amount of surprise and action whilst still remaining believable.
The plot twist which comes halfway through act two and the scenes with raucous but believable fighting stay on the right side of melodramatic, providing both an interesting plot and funny character interaction. The ending comes to a natural close which doesn’t quite tie up all the loose ends – you’ll have to decide for yourself what sort of man you think old Mick is.
There is the right amount of surprise and action whilst still remaining believable
The characters are generally well and subtly developed, apart from a slight stereotypical presentation of Mairtin as a ‘yob’ character, with chewing gum and exaggerated body language. All the actors involved, Ged McKenna (Mick), Paddy Glynn (Maryjohnny), Rhys Dunlop (Mairtin) and Paul Carroll (Thomas), play their parts well and convincingly with successful comic timing and audience engagement. They are charismatic and addictive to watch, especially given their appealing Irish accents (although the accents can be strong, so make sure you’re paying attention!).
You’ll have to decide for yourself what sort of man you think old Mick is.
A Skull in Connemara is definitely worth a watch; it is entertaining, funny and it is easy to become invested in the characters. And, if anything, come and see it because on Wednesday 27 May at 7:45pm, the Nottingham Playhouse is putting on a ‘Pay What You Can’ performance meaning you can buy a ticket for … whatever you can, be that 1p, 50p, £1 or £5! Not a bad price to pay for an exciting evening of ‘fancy skull-battery’ (undoubtedly the play’s best and most hilarious scene), an insight into a small Irish community and enough twists and turns to keep the plot pacey and interesting.
Alice Billin and Rachel Berkoff
‘A Skull in Connemara’ is running till Saturday 6th June. For more information, see here
Images credited to Robert Day