A Skull in Connemara

Presented by the Adelaide Repertory Theatre Society
Reviewed date Thurs 18th April 2012
Following on from their successful production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane last year, The Rep are now presenting the second play in the Leenane trilogy, written by Martin McDonagh. The link throughout the trilogy is that the location, the village of Leenane in Connemara, County Galway, remains the same, and one or two of the characters in the first play are referred to in conversation in this one, but we meet a different group of people this time. Kerrin White directed the first play and is back to direct this one, with three actors who were in the first play also returning. This makes for a strong team and a head start towards creating this production, which shows in the high quality of this performance.
Mick Dowd has the annual job of clearing old graves of the remains of those occupying them in order to make space for those to come. Maryjohnny Rafferty drops in regularly to sit by his fire and chat over a glass or two of his poteen, a powerful home distilled liquor. They are having a drink when her teenaged grandson, Mairtin Hanlon, arrives to tell Mick that the priest says that it is time for Mick to do his annual clearance and that, this year, he is to assist him. This year will be different, though, as one of the graves to be cleared is that of Mick’s wife, Oona, who had died seven years earlier in a car crash, caused by Mick’s drunken driving.
In the graveyard, the two are working, but Mick cannot touch his wife’s grave until the garda, the policeman, arrives to observe. The garda is Mairtin’s older brother, Thomas Hanlon. Although Mick was found guilty of drunken driving there was suspicion, but no proof, that he crashed his car deliberately to kill his wife; and the rumour still continues. Thomas is tired of his mundane work and dreams of solving a major crime and gaining promotion. He thinks that this could be his chance. During the second act of the play, which began as an already black comedy, it gets progressively darker still, with a few twists and turns and the consumption of large quantities of poteen.
Peter Davies gives a solid performance in the central role of Mick, stoically denying any premeditation of Oona’s death and admitting fault only as far as crashing the car through driving whilst completely drunk. His story never wavers and Davies lets us see that pain at being thought a liar and murderer. We see, too, in his eyes his sadness at disinterring his wife’s remains. Davies impresses in the role.
Jude Brennan makes Maryjohnny a wily and conniving old bird, and it is easy to see her cheating at bingo, knocking back goodly quantities of poteen and gossiping all over the neighbourhood. She is also one to hold a grudge and Brennan gives her character just the right hint of bitterness when she speaks of things that have angered her in the past, that it is clear that Maryjohnny is not one to get on the wrong side of.
Mark Drury plays Mick’s not too bright young assistant, Mairtin, with a mouth that is seemingly a conversation or two ahead of his brain. Drury does a fine job as the gormless oaf, creating a real country bumpkin and providing a good share of the laughs.
Steve Parker makes up the foursome, in the role of the garda, Thomas. Parker begins by presenting Tom as a smart and efficient officer of the law then, smoothly and convincingly, he lets the cracks in the façade appear, until we realise that he is not much brighter than his younger brother, Mairtin. Parker shows us all of Tom’s frustration at being a village policeman with little to do, and nothing of any real consequence, who desperately wants to be like a television detective, solving baffling murders on a weekly basis. His unrealistic expectations drive him too far, into breaking rules and revealing his violent temper.
The set for the first and third acts is a surprisingly spacious room, for a peasant cottage. It is constructed of heavy stone and warmed by a large fireplace, with chairs either side. The second act is in the graveyard, with graves opened for the men to step into and realistically shovel out dirt. Since there is only one interval between the second and third acts, and the two sets are so bulky, there is a rather lengthy set change between the first and second acts. Laraine Wheeler’s lighting, particularly for the graveyard, works perfectly.
This is another winner for The Rep and will no doubt gain admirers for the writing of Martin McDonagh and the direction of Kerrin White, as well as the talents of his team, both onstage and backstage.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide
Venue: ARTS Theatre, 53 Angas Street, Adelaide
Season: 8pm nightly, 25-28 April and 2pm Saturday 28 April 2012
Duration: 2hrs 15min (incl interval)
Tickets: Adults $20, Concession $15, Students $10. Special rates for group bookings
Bookings: 8212 5777 or [email protected]


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