Theatre review: The Lonesome West at Everyman, Cork

By Marjorie Brennan

4/5 stars

Martin McDonagh’s The Lonesome West is practically a period piece now, portraying an Ireland where cheaply-framed pictures of the Pope and JFK still hang on the yellowed walls, a packet of Tayto costs 17p and the local priest drops by to sip poitín at the kitchen table.

John McCarthy and Gus McDonagh in The Lonesome West. Picture: Darragh Kane

This production, directed by Julie Kelleher, opens to spaghetti western music and a ringing bell. For whom it tolls, we don’t know but, as in most westerns, we sense they all won’t make it out alive. The duelling protagonists in this kitchen scene are Valene (John McCarthy) and Coleman (Gus McDonagh), brothers who are in a permanent state of dispute and suffering a bad case of arrested development.

Interceding in this initially comedic tableau is Fr Welsh (Andrew Holden), who is being driven to drink by his parochial responsibilities. He takes on a parental role in trying to resolve the petty fraternal squabbles. “He started it!” exclaims Valene of Coleman, the throwaway petulance of the phrase eventually taking on a far darker and more disturbing meaning. Into this den of toxic masculinity comes Doc Marten-wearing poitín dealer Girleen (Amy McElhatton) who flirts with Coleman, while giving short shrift to Fr Welsh’s existential ponderings.

The first half of the play flies by, the quick-fire volleying of insults between Valene and Coleman eliciting guffaws of laughter from the audience. But there is a fine line between comedy and cruelty, and after the interval, revenge and reckoning are in the air.

The well-realised production is enhanced by fine characterisation from the cast. Valene is an absolute gift of a role and McCarthy revels in it, his camp bitchiness masking a vulnerable core. A keen eye for detail greatly adds to the tone of the piece — plastic bags spilling out of a shabby sideboard, postcards affixed to the fridge, the white socks and slip-on shoes worn with the funeral suit.

“What kind of town is this at all?” beseeches the beleaguered Fr Welsh. One definitely worth a visit.

- Until Aug 25

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