Quintessentially Irish, and perversely fraternal, Martin McDonagh’s The Lonesome West, as envisaged in the co-op directorial debut of SUDS’ Hal Conyngham and Eleanor Harrison-Dengate, is darkly hilarious in a way only the Irish can be. Stoves, statuettes, and potato chips take centre stage in a play, set in an uninsured house by a lake in rural Leenaun, dripping with violence and misery of the most abject kind.
Focused around the relationship (perhaps too generous a word) between the unbelievably juvenile pair of brothers, Coleman (William Campion) and Valene (Charlie Jones), the two struggle to subsist in a maudlin world which very clearly doesn’t care. For all their similarities, the two are equally dark but distinct. Campion’s malice, dominance and apparent seniority plays superbly against the ever-so-slightly-more innocent, if equally sadistic performance by Jones, who brings a cruelly brandished knife to a fraternal gunfight.
The script’s strong grasp of the absurd and farcical is an asset capitalised on by the whole cast, but by the brothers especially. Their comic timing, where required, is spot on and the humour (despite its darkness) is welcome punctuation to what would otherwise be an offensively miserable narrative; leaving you laughing against your will at snappy dialogue and a Pinter-esque obsession with the arbitrary in the face of the significant.
Girleen (Lucinda Vitek) is an unconventional (not-all-that) feminine foil to, and welcome relief from, the hypermasculinity of the brawling brothers. Her brash, womanly charm works, not unlike the poitín on which Coleman and Valene depend, as a burning anaesthetic. Lucinda stands as the closest thing the play has to a voice of reason, and adequately articulates the closest feelings the play has to love.
Father Roderick Welsh (Aaron Cornelius) is something of a weak link, which, though an uncompelling actor, does not work against his character. His lack of conviction (religious, or as a stage presence) complements an unholy dependence on drink and his successive spiritual crises. Awkward and uncertain, Cornelius is a victim of the play’s amusing and blunt critique of a particularly violent and indifferent brand of distinctly Irish Catholicism; a self-immolating, self-medicating wretch, he is to be pitied accordingly.
There are moments where some characters’ accents become difficult to understand, certain ominous pauses suggest a disappeared line and the teching was unrefined and poorly coordinated. However, all but the first of these, I feel, can be attributed to the performance reviewed being but a first dress rehearsal.
If you can empathise with any of the characters, you deserve pity. I suspect everybody will, though. The triumph of this play and this performance is its disappointed presentation of only slightly exaggerated, regular human beings. It’s hard not to walk away feeling a little bit Irish, and a little bit impressed. The show is feckin’ brilliant.
The Lonesome West
Wed 6 June – Sat 9 June
7pm Cellar Theatre
$2 – $5