A Skull in Connemarra is the second play in Irish writer Martin McDonagh’s The Leenane Trilogy. Sandwiched in the middle of the trilogy by The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Lonesome West, A Skull in Connemarra tells the story of gravedigger Mick Dowd (Chris Bunworth), who is responsible for exhuming the grave of his wife, who died seven years earlier in a drink driving accident with Mick at the wheel. Along for the ride is the brash teenager Mairtin Hanlon (Tom Barton), his older brother – local incompetent policeman Thomas (Pete Reid) – and Mick’s elderly neighbor Mary (Marg Downey).
While this production by Kin Collective is perfectly fine, with all actors putting in solid performances, it feels as if the script has been done a disservice. There is a lack of genuine relationships or human connection between any of the characters, and the result is a somewhat shallow, almost slapstick-like black comedy that leaves the audience with not much more than a good story.
As Mick, Bunworth gives a good performance; the truly strange plot is not an easy one to navigate convincingly, but Bunworth manages to make some sense of it and the audience ends up sympathizing with his clearly unstable yet genuine Mick. Alternatively, there is a lack of genuineness to Mairtin, a character so irritating that you spend most of his time on stage wishing Mick would smack him with his gravedigging shovel. While Mairtin is clearly written to be the brash, never-shuts-up class clown of a teenager, it feels as though Hanlon could have done more with the role to raise him up from mere Donkey-from-Shrek¬¬-irritating-sidekick-turned-comrade status. Reid’s work as local copper Thomas injects a John Cleese-esque comedy into the piece, which is juxtaposed well with Mick’s tortured brooding. Again, it would have been nice to see a little more light and shade with this character, especially given his crucial role in the dark climax of the play. Downey is a standout as Mick’s bingo-playing neighbour Mary; she is a subtle actress with great comic timing and manages to convey the boredom and comforts of small-town life, as well as explore much of Mary’s past and internal world.
Set design by Casey-Scott Corless is impressive, especially given the transformation of a small Irish living room into a darkened graveyard with real soil. Scene changes were quite lengthy, which really effected the pace of the show, but this may have been opening night jitters. Corless’s costumes are almost another character in themselves; from Mairtin’s over-the-top early 90s streetwear to Mick’s worn-out and dirty clothes, the costumes do a beautiful job of evoking the characters within them.
The direction by David Cameron seems to be the weak link here; while the banter between the characters was highly enjoyable, particularly in the opening scene between Mick and Mary, his exploration of rhythm, pace and silence often undermines the writing and keeps the audience from truly engaging with the text. It feels as though playwright Martin McDonagh had more to say than this production managed to communicate.
Overall, A Skull in Connemarra has the feeling of a pub yarn: colourful characters and a twisting plot that is highly enjoyable; but it lacks the subtle depth of meaning or character which is the centerpiece of truly great theatre.