Skull two pints in Connemara: this week’s theatre highlights

Pat Shortt stars in the second of Martin McDonagh’s Leenane Trilogy; Roddy Doyle’s barfly banter gets a human face with Liam Carney and Phillip Judge

Mullered and Skullit: Liam Carney and Phillip Judge in Two Pints

Mullered and Skullit: Liam Carney and Phillip Judge in Two Pints

 

A Skull in Connemara
Olympia Theatre, Dublin Previews Tuesday August 14th Opens Wednesday August 15th until September 1st 7.30pm (Wed & Sat mat 2.30pm) €21-€46 ticketmaster.ie

We have a bone to pick with you. Martin McDonagh may not be the world’s most nuanced dramatist, but even his detractors have to reckon with the writer’s immense popularity. His film-making has recently begun to do for the American Midwest what his plays did for the West of Ireland, where characters seem to arrive without a trace of psychology, where the voices seem like a half-remembered parody, and gruesome violence is slathered on almost without consequence. How should such work be staged? With glee or gravitas?

When Decadent first toured A Skull in Connemara, the second play in McDonagh’s Leenane Trilogy, in 2013, they found an answer that has sustained the company ever since. Director Andrew Flynn’s invigorating approach was to recognise the Grand Guignol of McDonagh’s imagination and bow to meet it. Rather than present its story of a seasonal gravedigger with a controversial past as a splenetic but naturalistic farce – pounding freshly exhumed bones to smithereens to make room for new arrivals – Flynn’s production made it a wonderfully grim fantasy, played on a surreal landscape of twisted and disturbing dreams. Now it returns with Pat Shortt as gravedigger Mick Dowd, returning to McDonagh 20 years after he performed in The Lonesome West for Druid. Whether Shortt finds any more substance to this play hardly matters. Like the graves, it doesn’t have to be that deep to be effective.

Two Pints
The Flowing Tide, Dublin Tuesday August 14th-Saturday August 25th 8pm (Sat mat 2.30pm) €20 For full tour details see abbeytheatre.ie

Up to last year, Roddy Doyle made it seem that two Guinnesses were locked in earnest conversation. In his online experiment in short-form fiction, a dialogue of desires, rages and griefs floated up beside an image of two scoops already well under way. Those voices have now been attached to something warmer in a show that pairs Liam Carney and Phillip Judge (taking over from Lorcan Cranitch) as the kind of intimate friends who can meet in a pub without greeting, say anything except something emotional, and joke frequently – often hilariously – without really laughing. The Abbey’s off-site production, back to tour five Irish pubs and two English ones, remains a conversation piece, but also a play about what lies beneath banter. 

The conversation flows through gags and tangents, while building up a personal story. Carney plays a pub philosopher and wind-up merchant, Judge a more credulous and sensitive soul. Together, their talk meanders from an unhappy account of a hospital car-park attendant to how Nigella Lawson improves every situation. Soon, though, we have a context: Carney’s character has a dying father, and the conversation becomes both a meditation on last orders and an understanding of sanctuary. Why wouldn’t the show get in another round?

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