Martin McDonagh

1971- ; b. Elephant and Castle, South London, to a Sligo mother and a Galway father (cleaning lady and construction worker); moved to Camberwell; spent holidays in Easkey, Co. Sligo, and Connemara; Catholic choir-boy; left school at 16; remained in London when his parents returned to Lettermullan, Co. Connemara; author of The Beauty Queen of Leenane, directed by Gary Hynes and premiered by Druid Co., 1st Feb., Town Hall Galway, with Marie Mullen in lead; opened at Royal Court (Theatre Upstairs), London, 29th Feb.; winner George Devine Award for Most Promising Newcomer, Writers’ Guild Award for Best Fringe Theatre Play, and Evening Standard Award for Most Promising Playwright;
appt. writer-in-residence at Royal National Theatre; also The Cripple of Inishmaan, premiered Royal National Theatre (7 Jan 1997), dir. Nicholas Hyntner, with designs by Bob Crowley, with Ruairdhrí Conroy as Billy, in a brilliant début - set ina village shop with ‘shelves of canned goods, mostly peas’; moved to NT Lyttleton Theatre (30 April 199[7]); The Lonesome West (1997), last in the trilogy, premiered at same venue (10 June 1997); all three being produced together by Gary Hynes as “The Leenane Trilogy” (Galway, 21 June 1997), moving to the Royal Court Downstairs/Duke of York’s (July-August 1997), offering a Saturday trilogy performance at 1.00, 4.00 and 8.00p.m.; transferred to New York, April 1998, where Dawn Bradfield was nominated for a Tony Award as Best Featured Actress in The Lonesome West, 1999; directed by Joy Zinoman at the Studio Theater, Washington, March 1999;
wrote a second trilogy consisting in A Skull in Connemara, premiered Town Hall Theatre, Galway (3 June 1997) followed by The Lieutenant of Inishmore (Stratford, 2001) - with Domhnaill Gleeson - and The Banshees of Inisheer; The Pillowman (2003), concerning the murder of children, won the Laurence Olivier Best New Play Award (2004); also The Mamturk Rifleman [2004]; The Lonesome West toured by Lyric (Belfast) and An Grianan Th. (Letterkenny), Nov. 2005; his self-directed film-script Six Shooter (2005), concerning a murderously-crazed youth on a train - played by Ciaran Murphy - won the best Live-Action short film prize at the 2006 Academy Awards; In Bruges, his film debut, opened the Sundance Film Festival, 2008, featuring with Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, and Ralph Fiennes; his Beauty Queen was revived by the Lyric Th. (Belfast) in 2009, dir. Michael Cabot, and toured to points in Ireland from Coleraine to Cork, with Paddy Glynn, Connie Walker, Alan de Vally, et al.;
his film The Banshees of Inisherin, set on Aran Island (or its like) at the end of the Civil War and involving the violence that arises at the breakdown of a friendship entirely - and pointedly - unrelated to the political events, was premiered in Venice on 5 Sept. 2022 and went on to win Oscar nominations and prizes for Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and others.

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  • The Beauty Queen of Leenane (London: Methuen 1996), 60pp.
  • The Leenane Trilogy (London: Methuen 1997).
  • The Cripple of Inishmaan (London: Methuen 1997).
  • The Pillowman (London: Faber & Faber [2005]).
  • Six Shooter (RTÉ2, 28 Dec. 2005), dir. MacDonagh, with Brendan Gleeson and Aisling O’Sullivan - being the tale of a man’s train journey through rural Ireland following the death of his wife and a chance encounter with an oddball character, setting in motion the dangerous events of the film; 27 mins.

Also film version of The Lieutenant of Inishmore and scripts for The Pillowman (dir. by Adam Mannering; based on his play of 2008); In Bruges (2008; dir. by McDonagh, with actors Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, and Ralph Fiennes), and Seven Psychopaths (2012; with Farrell, Christopher Walken, et al.)

Collected edition
  • Plays 1, introduced by Fintan O’Toole [Methuen Contemporary Dramatists] (London: Methuen 1999), xvii, 196pp. [The Leenane Trilogy [being]: “The Beauty Queen of Leenane”; “A Skull in Connemara”; “The Lonesome West”.

Note: “The Cripple of Inishmaan”, rep. The Methuen Drama Anthology of Irish Drama, ed. Patrick Lonergan (London: Methuen 2008)

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  • Lillian Chambers & Eamonn Jordan, eds., The Theatre of Martin McDonagh: A World of Savage Stories (Blackrock: Carysfort Press 2006), x, 453pp. [see details].
  • Eamon Jordan, From Leenane to L.A: The Theatre and Cinema of Martin McDonagh (Dublin: IAP 2013), q.pp.
  • Richard Rankin Russell, ed., Martin McDonagh: A Casebook [Casebooks on Modern Dramatists ser.] (London: Routledge 2007), viii, 187pp. [see details].
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  • Joseph Feeney, SJ, ‘Martin McDonagh: Dramatist of the West’, in Studies, 87, 345 (Spring 1998), pp.24-32 [see extract; incl. 64-item bibl. of reviews, interviews, and newspaper articles].
  • Fintan O’Toole, ‘Introduction’ (London: Methuen 1996), pp.ix-xvii [see extract].
  • C. L. Dallat, review of The Beauty Queen of Leenane, in Times Literary Supplement (15 March 1996) [see extract]
  • [Q.auth.,] ‘Nowhere Man’, [interview] in The Irish Times [Sat] (26 April 1997) [see extract].
  • Benedict Nightingale, ‘The Sort of Renown that would Make any Troupe Green’, in NYTimes (22 Feb. 1998), “Leisure” [see extract].
  • Werner Hüber (Paderborn), ‘The Plays of Martin McDonagh’, in Jürgen Kamm, ed., Twentieth-Century Theatre and Drama in English: Festschrift for Heinz Kosok on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday (WVT Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier 1999) - Part II: Ireland [q.pp.]
  • Vic Merriman, ‘Decolonisation: The Theatre of Tiger Trash’, in Irish University Review (Autumn/Winter 1999), pp.305-17 [see extract].
  • Karen Vandevelde, ‘The Gothic Soap of Martin McDonagh’, in Theatre Stuff: Critical Essays on Contemporary Irish Theatre, ed. Eamonn Jordan (Blackrock: Carysfort Press 2000), pp.292-302.
  • John Waters, ‘The Irish Mummy: The Plays and Purpose of Martin McDonagh’, in Druids, Dudes and Beauty Queens: The Changing Face of Irish Theatre, ed., Dermot Bolger (Dublin: New Island Press 2001), pp.55-71.
  • John McDonagh, ‘“It’s surprised I am how sane I’ve turned out!” - Martin McDonagh and the Construction of Connemara’, in Working Papers in Irish Studies, 2, 3 [Working Papers in Irish Studies] (Ft. Lauderdale: Liberal Arts Dept., Nova Southeastern University 2002), pp.1-7.
  • Patrick Lonergan, ‘“The Laughter Will Come of Itself: The Tears Are Inevitable”: Martin McDonagh and the Impact of Globalization on Irish Theatre Criticism’, in Modern Drama [“Special Irish Issue”, ed. Karen Fricker & Brian Singleton], 47, 4 (Winter 2004), q.pp. [see online].
  • Anthony Roche, ‘The “Irish” Play on the London Stage 1990-2004), in Players and Painted Stage: Aspects of Twentieth-century Drama in Ireland, ed. Christopher Fitz-simon (Dublin: New Island 2004), [cpp.134-35].
  • Nicholas Grene, ‘Reality Check: Authenticity from Synge to McDonagh’, in Munira H. Mutran & Laura P. Z. Izarra, eds., Irish Studies in Brazil [Pesquisa e Crítica, 1] (Sao Paolo: Associação Editorial Humanitas 2005), pp.69-88 [see extract]
  • Clare Wallace, ‘Martin McDonagh: ‘pastiche soup’, bad taste, biting irony’, in Suspect Cultures: Narrative, Identity and Citation in 1990s New Drama (Prague: Litteraria Prengensia 2006) [chap.; q.pp.]
  • Eamonn Jordan & Lianne Chambers, ed., The Theatre of Martin McDonagh: A World of Savage Stories (Dublin: Carysfort Press, 2006), x, 443pp. [contribs. by Mary Luckhurst, Catherine Rees, Lisa Fitzpatrick, Nicholas Grene, Vic Merriman, Paul Murphy, Christopher Murray, John MacDonagh, Martin Arrowsmith, et al., incls. Paul Murphy, ‘The Stage Irish are Dead, Long Live the Stage Irish: The Lonesome West and The Beauty Queen of Leenane’, pp.60-78].
  • John Wilson Foster, ‘Virtual Irelands: Martin McDonagh’, in Between Shadows: Modern Irish Writing and Culture (Dublin: IAP 2009), pp.90-100 [see extract].
  • Lisa Fitzpatrick, ‘Language Games: The Pillowman, A Skull in Connemara, and Martin McDonagh’s Irish-English’, in A World of Savage Stories: The Theatre of Martin McDonagh (Carysfort Press 2009), pp.141-54.
  • .Eamonn Jordan, ‘The Native Quarter: The Hyphenated-Real – The Drama of Martin McDonagh’, in Sub-Versions: Trans-National Readings of Modern Irish Literature, ed. Ciaran Ross (Amsterdam: Rodopi Press 2010), q.pp.
—See also some others unlisted here under Commentary, infra.

See also Victoria White, ‘Critics cry “heartless”’, in “Straight from the Arts” [column], The Irish Times (16. Jan. 1997) [on English responses to The Cripple of Inishmaan]; Norma Jenckes, ‘Skeletons are Dancing Again’, in The Irish Times (13 July 2000) [violence and the macabre in The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Cripple of Inishmaan]; Charlotte Cusick, Out of the Earth: Ecocritical REadings of Irish Literature (Cork UP 2010) [evaluating Cripple as a treatment of Robert Flaherty’s filmic manipulation of Aran ecology].

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Bibliographical details

Lillian Chambers & Eamonn Jordan, eds., The Theatre of Martin McDonagh: A World of Savage Stories (Blackrock: Carysfort Press 2006), x, 453pp. [essays by Werner Huber, Rebecca Wilson, Nicholas Grene, Paul Murphy, Christopher Murray, Maria Kurdi, Mary Luckhurst, Catherine Rees, Lisa Fitzpatrick, Patrick Burke, Ashley Taggart, Eamon Jordan, Laura Eldred, Ondrej Pilny, John MacDonagh, Aidan Arrowsmith, Shaun Richards, Victor Merriman, Sara Keating, Patrick Lonergan, Peter P. Müller. Reports & Reviews, Declan Kiberd, Uinsoinn Mac Dubhghaill, Susan Conley, Karen Fricker, Fintan O’Toole, Michael Billington, Susannah Clapp, Ben Brantley; Biog. Notes; Select Bibl., Plays and Productions; Index. Available at Google Books online; accessed 22.04.2011]

Richard Rankin Russell, ed., Martin McDonagh: A Casebook [Casebooks on Modern Dramatists ser.] (London: Routledge 2007), viii, 187pp. CONTENTS: 1. The Identity Politics of Martin McDonagh; 2. Martin McDonagh’s Stagecraft; 3. Comedy and Violence in The Beauty Queen of Leenane; 4. The ‘Ineffectual Father Welsh/Walsh’: Anti-Catholicism and Catholicism in Martin McDonagh’s The Leenane Trilogy; 5. Postmodern Theatricality in the Dutch/Flemish Adaptation of Martin McDonagh’s The Leenane Trilogy 6. Breaking Bodies: The Presence of Violence on Martin McDonagh’s Stage; 7. Martin McDonagh and the Contemporary Gothic; 8. The Pillowman: A New Story to Tell 9. ‘Never Mind the Shamrocks’ - Globalizing Martin McDonagh; 10. Chronology of Martin McDonagh’s Life and Works. [COPAC online; accessesd 13.11.2014.)

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Joseph Feeney
, SJ, ‘Martin McDonagh: Dramatist of the West’, in Studies, 87, 345 (Spring 1998), pp.24-32, quotes, ‘I only started writing plays because I had been rejected everywhere else. It was the only literary art form left. I knew I didn’t want to write novels because I knew I didn’t have the rose style. I still think films are very hard. I think stage plays are one of the easiest art forms. Just get the dialect, a bit of a story and a couple of nice characters, and you’re away.’ Garry Hynes: ‘The Ireland he encounters [as an outsider] provokes his imagination. So he does not just recreate some sort of observed reality - there’s a chemistry that takes place and he creates an imagined world.’ [25]. (Summary of Plots): ‘McDonagh’s Connemara is home to angry, disconnected people whose murder, self-slaughter, spite, ignorance and familial hatred. In The Beauty Queen, Maureen Folan, a lonely woman in her early forties, finds love for the first time, hopes to marry and go to Boston, but is thwarted by her manipulative mother, with violent consequences. In A Skull in Connemara, Mick Dowd, suspected of murdering his wife, is hired by the parish priest to move bodies in the cemetery, finds his wifes body missing, batters skulls and bones in a drunken (and funny) scene, and faces another possible murder. In The Lonesome West, the feuding brothers Valene and Coleman Connor, stuck together in a small cottage after their fathers death (or murder), grow violent over minor matters, reject Fr Welshs plea for peace, and after a short reconciliation renew their mutual hatred. And in The Cripple of Inishmaan, there is in the Aran Islands a 90-year-old alcoholic mother, a son who is killing her with alcohol, a widow who talks to a stone, a girl who throws eggs at people, and the tubercular Billy Claven (everyone calls him Cripple Billy) who wants a role in the film Man of Aran (1934), fails a screen test in Hollywood, and returns with futile hope of romance on Inishmaan. The final stage direction is emblematic: “Fade to black”. Some of McDonagh’s characters are warm and kind, even gentle and heroic: Mick Dowd lovingly kisses his wifes skull; a sympathetic young parishioner consoles Fr Welsh; Fr Welsh himself suffers and dies hoping to reconcile the Connor brothers; Cripple Billy gently wants happiness. Yet many of McDonaghs people remain angry, desperate, unforgiving, and woeful in their personal relationships. (…; p.26.)

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Fintan O’Toole, Introduction, Martin McDonagh: Plays 1 (Faber 1999): ‘The mixture of elements makes sense bcause the country in which Mcdonagh’s play is set is pre-modern and post-modern at the same time. … One of the superimposed pictures is a black-and-white still from an Abbey play of the 1950s: west of Ireland virgins and London building sites, tyrannical mothers and returned Yanks, family feuds, clerical crises of faith. But the other picture is a lurid Polaroid of a postmodern landscape, a disintegrating place somewhere between London and Boston, saturated in Irish rain and Australian soaps, a place in which it is hard to remember anyone’s name, in which news of murders floats in through the television screen, in which the [rubbing] of personal identities makes the line between the real and the unreal dangerously thin. And behind these garish colours, there are shadows in which [xi] madness and violence lurk, waiting to emerge. … you experience a series of double takes [… &c.]’ (p.xi-xii.) [Cont.]

Fintan O’Toole (Introduction, Martin McDonagh: Plays 1, 1999) - cont.: ‘Behind these images, there is a profound and convoluted sense of displacement. Pato Dooley in The Beauty Queen of Leenane sums it up when he confesses to Maureen that although he is unhappy in London, he does not dream of returning forever to Leenane:“when it’s there I am, it’s here I wish I was, of course. Who wouldn’t? But when it’s here I am … it isn’t there I want to be, of course not. But I know it isn’t here I want to be either.” These people are neither here nor there. They don’t know whether they’re coming or going. The old exile’s nostalgia has been replaced by a less tangible but more unsettling sense of loss. / Part of this loss is the inability to pine for the idyllic landscape that surrounds them. Nature as a source of beauty, consolation or inspiration is almost entirely absent from their lives […] (Ibid., pp.xii-xiii.); ‘For almost everything tha gave that old Ireland its sense of itself is gone. The Church is falling apart [… /…/] Irish history itself is an evanescent emoition or a lurid joke’ (p.xiv). [Cont.]

Fintan O’Toole (Introduction, Martin McDonagh: Plays 1, 1999) - cont.: ‘[T]he sacred memory of the dead is no longer honoured’ (p.xv); ‘[…] the greatest Irish institution of all - the family - hardly seems in great shape either …. The possibility of a happy marriage … is a hope raised only to be dashed. Even sex doesn’t seem particularly likely.’ (p.xv.); ‘The graveyard scenes of A Skull in Connemara hang somewhere between the a cheap vampire movie and the fourth act of Hamlet’ (p.xvii.); ‘And what matters in the end is that McDonagh is more than just a very clever theatrical stylist. His tricks and turns have a purpose. They are bridges over a deep pit of sympathy and sorrow, illuminated by a tragic vision of stunted and frustrated lives. Moments of love and loss, of yearning and even of faith catch the light now and then. That they cannot abide long in such a blighted world seems somehow less remarkable than the fact that they arise at all.’ (p.xvii; end.) Fintan O’Toole nominatesThe Beauty Queen of Leenane as the ‘Play of the Year 1996’, in The Irish Times (‘A brilliant début’, [?] Jan. 1997).

[Q.auth.,] ‘Nowhere Man’, [interview] in The Irish Times [Sat] (26 April 1997), in which he calls himself ‘only slightly catholic’; further. ‘I was never any sort of nationalist. It always struck me as kind of dumb, any kind of pride in the palace you happen to be born in. Even culturally, I don’t think you can take too much pride in what your predecessors in your country have written. If you haven’t written it yourself, you’re as close to it as an Eskimo. [... &c.]’

Benedict Nightingale, ‘The Sort of Renown that would Make any Troupe Green’, in NYTimes (22 Feb. 1998), “Leisure” [sect.], quotes Gary Hynes: ‘Suddenly it made sense ... Martin is perched on the cusp of two cultures, and that’s what makes him extraordinarily interesting. He’s brought his social and cultural inheritance to his work, and he’s looked at it from the outside and spun it round his contemporary experience. He’s Irish, but he’s also a South London lad, tough and impatient with the past. He feels no need to kneel at his heritage’s shrine.’ Further, ‘If I went back and looked at my early productions … I’d find them impossibly overblown, baroque.You must keep saying, “What can I do without?” The more you pare down, the nearer you get to the play. In the case of The Beauty Queen, it’s especially necessary because its world is not lovely and poetic but one of emotional and physical poverty. The only things we put onstage are the things the characters actually need because those are the only things they have.’ (For full text, see Ricorso Library “Reviews”, infra; also Derek Speirs, for NY Times, idem.)

Vic Merriman, ‘Decolonisation: The Theatre of Tiger Trash’, in Irish University Review (Autumn/Winter 1999), pp.305-17, espec. 315ff.: There is a view that McDonagh’s work is in some postmodernism sense metatheatrical, that the whole project is a wonderful jape in which the jade repertoire of Boucicault, Synge, and the“lesser” Abbey playwrights has been plundered as an antique hoard of quirky, dated images. Such theatrical freaks have no currency in an urbane present, so to prarade them in all thei benightedness is a big joke […] From the point of view of the art form itself, one of the casualties here is the radical potential of those theatrical figures from the past [...; 315] McDonagh’’ plays are often greeted as parodies of he works of John Millington Synge. This needs to be challenged […] The journey from Synge to McDonagh takes us all the way ffrom images which challenge the submerged ideological positions of an emergent neocolonial class to those which collude in reinforcing them. / The success of Carr’s and McDonagh’s plays has little to do with the loss of relevance of older worlds and their inhabitants. ... A neocolonial society in the throes of globalisation is a pecularaly inhospitable location for postcolonial critique. The argument that the apparent playfulness of McDonagh’s work [316] marks an ability on the part of the nation to laugh at itself claims cultural significance for the plays as manifestations of a coming of age, a type of postcolonial maturation. In reality, the comfortable echelon of a nakedly divided society is confirmed in its complacency, as it simultaneously enjoys and erases the fact that “our” laughter is at the expense of  “them”. This phenomenon both illustrates and deploys the confusions about the status and meaning of postcolonialism to which Amkpa’s model draws attention. The movement of the dramatis personae of By the Bog of Cats and the Leenane Trilogy to central positions in Irish theatre enables such figures to occupy and redefine the co-ordinates of cultural space. In celebrating the new Irishness of the audience for such spectacles, they simultaneously negate the interrogation of the conditions in which such images are produced and have their points of reference. In this way, they point to a turn away from public inquiry, a willingness to settle for a divided society, a fatal refusal of the difficult process of decolonisation itself. A spurious post-coloniality of chronological severance institutes a lesser public role for theatre itself, in which its credentials as spectacle overpower its ethical obligation to critique and thus renew the social order.

C. L. Dallat, review of The Beauty Queen of Leenane, in Times Literary Supplement (15 March 1996): Maureen Folan in a claustrophobic, near-desperate domestic attachment to her cunningly manipulative mother Mag; Dallat remarks that the cumbersome diction associated with stage-Irishness (superimposition of hedge-school latinates on Gaelic grammar) rings true in MacDonagh’s hands; sparring debate on dubious worth of traditional Gaelic singing on Radio Éireann, the daughter defending the language; disgruntled neighbour Ray Dooley wheedled into playing a part in endless boiling of kettles for Complan with Kimberly biscuits; Maureen played by Marie Mullen (a Druid founder); other parts incl. the gentle and awkward Pato who writes an emigrant letter from London, and Larkin, conversely concerned with ‘the importance of Elsewhere’; judged a significant shift away from the facile assumptions of Irish character and gender definitions, recognising the role of women as power brokers and manipulators as well as victims. (p.20.)

C. L. Dallat, review of The Cripple of Inishmaan, Cottesloe Theatre, in Times Literary Supplement (17 Jan. 1997, commenting, ‘it is doubtful if this inegnious dissection of literary and filmic ways of seeing ireland will prove as popular as McDonagh’s first West-End success, which it was still possible to read in near-realist ways.’ (p.12.)

Oliver Reynolds, half-page review of production of the Leenane Trilogy at Royal Court Theatre Downstairs (Duke of York’s), in London (Times Literary Supplement, 8 Aug. 1997, noting that the plays are complementary rather than sequential; ‘Leenane is bog country, squelching with Catholicism’; ‘the uncovering of a past foul ded powers the plot of all thee plays, and McDonagh thereby pays homage to J. M. Sygne’s The Playboy of the Western World’; ‘the main cultural reference points for McDonagh’s characers are television programme.

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Michael Billington, ‘Playboy with a limp’, in ‘Arts’ section, Guardian Weekly ( 19 Jan. 1997), concluding that ‘it is a highly accomplished play that suggests thae literary and cinematic mths of Ireland are so encrusted they have no turned into reality.’ (p.26.)

Richard Pine, The Diviner: The Art of Brian Friel [rev. edn.] (Dublin: UCD Press 2000): ’I am not at all convinced that the much-prized and -acclaimed Leenane Trilogy is an important series of plays, because I think it is caught in the dichotomy between the styles of parody and pastiche. […] McDonagh seems to break new ground while observing the old. His The Cripple of Inihsmaan, by contrast, is a black comedy which merits serious study and pushes our appreciation of the genres of [J. M.] Synge and [J. J.] Molloy to new limits. Black - or at least serious - comedy is something [Brian] Friel has ignored […]’ (pp.350-51.)

Penelope Dening, interview with McDonagh at the RSC, in The Irish Times (Mon. 23 April 2001); notes that McDonagh’s early plays The Pillar Man and Dead Days At Coney have yet to be staged while another - The Lieutenant Of Inishmore - opens today at The Other Place studio in Stratford-upon-Avon on this day [23 April 2001] McDonagh describes himself as ‘an anarchist, in an anti-violence way’ and speaks of his background: ‘the community I grew up in were republican-leaning Catholics’, remarking: ‘I have tried to be as vicious or as attacking as the groups on both sides have been over the last 25 years, but have no one get injured for it. To do something creatively that was almost as vicious or as explosive as what they have been doing in a non-creative way.

Willborn Hampton, ‘Leenane Inmates Return to Complete McDonagh’s Theater Trilogy’, review-article on A Skull in Connemara, dir. Gordon Edelstein at the Gramercy Theatre (NY); Hampton quotes Martin McDonagh in telephone conversation [interview]: ‘It’s the least dark of the plays […] Everybody is still alive at the end. It is more ambiguous than the others. But it is more joyful and more spirited. More gleeful.’; Further, ‘No, I don’t know anybody quite like them’, he replied with a laugh. ‘But once you’ve already set up the characters, you just let them talk. You start with an odd proposition and then it snowballs into an argument. Mick Dowd annually exhumes bones to make room for new arrivals, this time digs up the remains of his own wife who died in a suspicious crash which he himself survived.’ [&c.]

David Nowlan, reviewing The Lieutenant of Inishmore (Royal Shakespeare Co., The Other Place, Stratford., dir. Wilson Milam), in The Irish Times (17 May 2001), writes: ‘Every caricature is dim-witted to the point of retardation, and violence seems endemic in all souls. It is, of course, a seriously surreal piece of theatre. But is surreality is such tha any kind of suspension of dissbelief becomes almost impossible, so that its consideable comedy and its angry gore become almost irrelevant to the actual situation at which he is farcically laughing.’ Notes that ‘it is less recognisable as“Synge-song” and much more streetwise than is evident in any of the Leenane Trilogy’. Further, ‘the anger has blinded its author so that the caricatures he has created in place of characters do not have even the semblacne of a resemblance either to Aran Islanders or to the members of the INLA - or even most other paramilitaries’; also notes that McDonagh has called the third play in the series ‘rubbish’ in need of a rewrite before he will allow it to be staged anywhere.

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Nicholas Grene, ‘Reality Check: Authenticity from Synge to McDonagh’, in Irish Studies in Brazil, ed. Munira H. Mutran & Laura P. Z. Izarra [Pesquisa e Crítica, 1] (Sao Paolo: Associação Editorial Humanitas 2005), pp.69-88: ‘In October 1997 I went along to the Olympia Theatre in Dublin to see Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane. The Leenane Trilogy had been premiered in Galway earlier that year, coproduced by Druid Theatre Company with the Royal Court, and it had gone on to a massive success in London. I had heard mixed reports from friends, and decided to book for just one of the plays instead of signing on for the whole three. I sat through The Beauty Queen stony-faced, in indignation and outrage, made worse by the fact that all around me the audience were clearly loving it - cracking up with laughter, on the edge of their seats with suspense in the suspenseful moments. How could they fall for these ancient melodramatic tricks, I thought, how could they laugh at these slick sitcom one-liners? A part of my anger had to do with what I felt was the factitious unreality of what purported to be an Irish play: the unreality of the language, of the situation, of the way the characters behaved. This is not Ireland, I said to myself, this is not Leenane in the 1990s. [69] / Suddenly this sounded familiar.’ (pp.69-70.) Further: ‘McDonagh’s plays have everywhere produced public controversy and at the centre of that controversy has been the issue of authenticity.’ (p.71.)

Nicholas Grene (‘Reality Check: Authenticity from Synge to McDonagh’, 2005) - ‘Conclusion: The Beauty Queen of Leenane’, p85ff.: ‘This is the standard old Irish country cottage kitchen in a desolate and isolated landscape of social stagnation. From Synge on this has been brandmarked as the reality of Ireland. It remained so even down to the 1990s when emigrants from the Galway small town of Leenane were much more likely to be going off to highly paid jobs in banking or information technology than to the building sites in England or the US which is all that is on offer to Pato in the Beauty Queen. I may seem only now to be echoing the [anti-Synge] protesters of 1907 - “That is not the West” - “this is not 1990s Leenane”. The difference is that Synge’s play was a highly original one, a new imaginative vision of Ireland, with its reality hotly contested. McDonagh’s play is ostensibly a self-conscious parody of its predecessors, but its actual claim to authentic reality is paradoxically sponsored by those predecessors. Audiences at Beauty Queen are disposed to accept the genuineness of this Leenane because it is like Synge only more so, in its extremity destroying any lingering vestiges of an idealised, romanticised Ireland, and revealing the raw reality beneath. But, from the point of view of those of us who react against McDonagh, it is not raw reality, it is pre-cooked, stage-reality rechauffé (p.86.) ‘The political identity of Ireland right through to our own time has remained sufficiently unstable so that any rendering of the past may be suspected of supporting one or other contemporary parti pris. [...; A] play like Beauty Queen, wildly fantastic sitcom-cum-melodrama tha it evidently is, can still be credited as the truth about small-town ireland. The reality against which Irish drama is checked for authenticity is generic and absolute, prototype of what we as Irish people really are or aspire to be.’ (p.87; for longer extracts, see in RICORSO Library, “Criticism”, infra.)

Clare Wallace, ‘Martin McDonagh: “Pastiche Soup”, Bad Taste, Biting Irony’, in Suspect Cultures: Narrative, Identity and Citation in 1990s New Drama (Prague: Litteraria Prengensia 2006): ‘[The Beauty Queen of Leenane] appealed to the more conservative critical establishment in Ireland and the UK as a welcome antidote to IN-Your-Face theatre, a return to a more comfortable and pleasurable experience of theatre, relant oupon linguistic nuances rather than spectacle and violent sensation’ (p.40; quoted in Shaun Richards, ‘A Dramatic Form “at the end of its tether”: Brian Friel and the Irish Peasant Play’ [lecture], in Proceedings of the Irish Research Group, Natal, Brasil, in 2013.]

John Wilson Foster, ‘Virtual Irelands: Martin McDonagh’, in Between Shadows: Modern Irish Writing and Culture (Dublin: IAP 2009): ‘McDonagh’s characters would seem to have come adrift of their rural moorings and origins but those origins and moorings are discernible nonetheless. The poet Patrick Kavanagh in the title of his painful epic poem The Great Hunger (1942) translated the Irish phrase for the Famine of 1847 - the Irish like modest euphemisms: the Second World War was known to them as the Emergency - into sexual and emotional terms and depicted a farmer who grows lonely and impotent under the stern eye of a strong mother who keeps a firm grip on his life and more ... [...] Mag Folan is a 40-year-old woman with the sexual and emotional life of a young girl. McDonagh is perversely partial to strong women [...] Mag Folan in The Beauty Queen of Leenane and Helen in The Cripple of [95] Inismaan, for example. Mag Folan is the majestic Maurya from Synge’s Riders to the Sea gone bad; Maureen is Synge’s Pegeen Mike [in The Playboy ... &c. ] without the poetry. Helen is a less spoiled latter-day Pegeen Mike who has fashioned herself as a tomboy in reproach to the men who are too weak to romance her; both are violent by acquired default; how dearly they want to be swept off their feet and are willing to meet the men more than halfway. [...] I would venture to suggest that a combination of Anglo-Irish upper-class domination, the Irish priesthood and the system of kinship and inheritance called familism robbed the Irish countrymen of their manhood and drove them to drink and worse. / The sexual and emotional poverty, a kind of ethnic arrested adolescence, expressed both in Synge and in McDonagh, is accurate enough, and the land of saints and schizophrenics, as one American anthropologist called western Ireland, is a fair enough description, the wit and eloquence to the contrary.[Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland, 1979]. A third American anthropologist, John C. Messenger, studied the Aran Islands (Inishmaan is one of the islands) in the 1950s and became persona non grata when he revealed the poverty of the sexual and emotional expression, its juiceless functionalism (and, as well, the aversion to nakedness that prevented the men even from learning how to swim) [Inis Beag: Isle of Ireland, 1969]. / All of these social features we would nowadays speak of in psychological rather than anthropological terms - dysfunction, schizophrenia, paranoia, abuse - ignorantly no doubt but on the right track. It has all come home, as it were, in McDonagh in powerful and unpleasant theatrical form. The politically incorrect word “cripple” jumps out at us, especially here in officially sensitive Canada. It’s a good bet that Bord Failte, the Irish Tourist Board, is no friend of Martin McDonagh’s, especially since the West is the jewel in the Irish tourist crown.’ (pp.95-96.)

Mark Fisher, reviewing The Lonesome West, in The Guardian (11 July 2016)

At first sight, the plays in Martin McDonagh’s Leenane trilogy look like they belong in some pre-industrial era, a time before electricity. Set in a village in the west of Ireland, they have the timeless flavour of the plays of JM Synge, as if these stories of narrow lives and thwarted ambitions could have been played out in any century.

But listen closer to The Lonesome West (1997), the third in the trilogy, and you hear mention of vol-au-vents, Hill Street Blues and all-women football teams. It is still a world defined by austerity, Catholicism and poteen, but it’s also a world of today. If the characters feel trapped, it is partly because they have been left behind by modernity.

Anticipating the enclosed universes of playwright Enda Walsh, The Lonesome West is about two grown-up brothers locked in a battle of adolescent squabbling. When they try to break the pattern, a dark parody of a modern-day truth-and-reconciliation process emerges. Instead of putting the past behind them, they use their apologies as new weapons to open old wounds.

It is funny and grim and, in Andy Arnold’s production, superbly played. Keith Fleming is all snarling malevolence as the murderous Coleman; David Ganly a smug bundle of boyish pettiness as his brother Valene; Michael Dylan, a mixed-up mess of doubts as Father Welsh, the alcoholic parish priest; and Kirsty Punton, all teenage pluck and insecurity as Girleen, a schoolgirl who is in love with Father Welsh. They are vile, foolish and ineffectual, yet true to themselves and touchingly vulnerable.

—Available online; accessed 26.02.2023.

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Ed Power, ‘Why the Irish Hate the Banshee of Inisherin [...]’, in The Telegraph (22 Feb. 2023)

Towards the end of the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation Captain Picard and his crew visit a deep-space colony basted in Blarney. Its inhabitants, “the Bringloidi”, are agrarian, quick to anger and dim-twitted. Their accents are Irish; they say things such as “take the pig out there, will you?”. Even in 1989, the stereotyping was controversial.

Watching Martin McDonagh’s Oscar-nominated and now Bafta-lauded The Banshees of Inisherin, I couldn’t help but think of The Next Generation’s interstellar leprechauns. Banshees, about the violent falling out of two best friends on a remote Irish island, takes place in a Shamrock-hued alternative universe every bit as out-to-space as an obscure Star Trek episode.

Darby O’Gill-esque rainbows breach the cloud line. People spend all day in a pub swaddled in a stygian gloom. Characters communicate in the hyperactive stage Irish cant - London-raised McDonagh’s forte since his breakout 1996 play The Beauty Queen of Leenane, a grand Guignol piece about the decline in the relationship between a spinster daughter and her mother. Everyone says “me” instead of “my”. Letter “g”s are dropped as though infused with the potato blight. Are you gettin’ me drift?

Hollywood has gone bonkers for Banshees: just look at those nine Oscar nominations. It also picked up four awards at the recent Baftas. In Ireland, though, the rhapsodic reception has left many baffled. “The film ends up feeding the usual stereotypes about Ireland ... International film awards are by no means a good film guide,” complained Jenny Farrell, a lecturer at Galway Mayo Institute of Technology in Galway.

“Is it just more Martin McDonagh shtick?,” wondered the Irish Times. [...]

—Available online; accessed 26.02.2023; for full copy, see attached.

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Wikipedia has this:

The Lonesome West features the persistently arguing brothers Coleman and Valene, whose father has just died in a shotgun ’accident.’ Valene is only interested in his religious ornaments, and drinking poteen. Coleman is only interested in eating, and attends funerals to collect free sausage rolls and vol au vents. Valene goes out to help drag the body of Garda Thomas Hanlon (character in “A Skull in Connemara”) out of the lake with Father Welsh. Hanlon had just killed himself. Coleman pretends to follow, delaying to tie his shoelace, despite the fact that he was wearing loafers. While alone in the house, he destroys all of Valene’s plastic figurines, by placing them in Valene’s new stove. Only Father Welsh, the alcoholic parish priest, attempts to fix their relationship, but his advice mostly goes unheard. It is revealed later in the play that Coleman had shot his father because he insulted his (Coleman’s) new haircut. Valene agreed to provide a false alibi for Coleman, stating that their father’s death was accidental. In exchange, he demanded Coleman’s share of the inheritance money. Neither of the brothers show any grief or remorse at their father’s death. The two brothers fight over everything and anything. Valene attacks Coleman over eating his crisps, and they fight over whose turn it is to read the magazine, and who left the top off Valene’s pen. Father Welsh, depressed because of the hatred between the brothers, and with a low self-esteem, writes a letter begging the brothers to get along, asserting that he will stake his soul on it. Father Welsh then proceeds to drown himself in the lake. This act is significant, as there has already been a lengthy discussion about suicide in the play. The characters believe that damnation follows suicide for the victims. When Coleman and Valene read his letter, they attempt to reconcile themselves, and a “confessions” scene ensues, in which the brothers take turns to admit the wrongs that they had secretly done to each other in the past, and to forgive each other’s “sins.” Coleman loses his temper when Valene admits to shoving a pencil down the throat of a Coleman’s old girlfriend, causing her to then fall in love with the doctor that removed it. In a fit of rage, Coleman proceeds to smash Valene’s new collection of ceramic religious figurines, and destroy his stove with multiple shot gun blasts. After Coleman calms down, Valene says “Try and top that one for yourself”. Coleman does, however, deliver an even more terrible confession. He reveals that he cut the ears of Valene’s dog two years previously, presenting the evidence of severed dog’s ears in a brown paper bag. With this, Valene flies into a rage, and a major fight scene ensues. It becomes clear that the two brothers can never have a good relationship. They agree that fighting is actually good for them, and that Father Welsh’s soul will be fine. The play premiered in June 1997 at the Druid Theatre Company in Galway, at the Town Hall Theatre in a co-production with the Royal Court Theatre, and transferred to the Royal Court Theatre, London on 26 July 1997. It opened at the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway on 27 April 1999. The same four actors who had appeared in the Galway and London productions also appeared in the Broadway production - Brían F. O’Byrne as Valene, Maelíosa Stafford as Coleman, David Ganly as Father Welsh, and Dawn Bradfield as Girleen. Garry Hynes directed all three productions. It closed on 13 June 1999 after 55 performances and 9 previews.

(Viewed 08.06.2017; minor edits.)

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The Lonesome West (Lyric Th., Belfast & An Griannan, Letterkenny), tour; dir. Michael Murfi, with Valene Connor (Frank McCuskar), Lalor Roddy (Coleman Connor), Enda Kilroy (Father Walsh), Charlene McKenna (Girleen Kelleher). Programme incls. interview with Mikel Murfi from the “Lyric Study Guide” and a biography of Martin McDonagh (“The Good, the Bad and the Irish”) by Dan Taskar (Lit. Assoc. and Senior Corr., The Western Stage). Author notes that McDonagh turned up at the Evening Standard Awards night to receive his prize for The Beauty Queen of Leenane drunk, with his brother, and was involved in a fist-fight with Sean Connery, who rebuked him for his conduct. McDonagh left school at 16, shunned university as “bogus”, spent 10 years on the dole watching tv and eating potato chips; watched his br. John trying to become a writer; thought ‘here was a job where all you had was your head, a pencil and a piece of paper. That’s the coolst kind of job there is […] unemployment with honour.’ Forced into work a cvil servant clerk; failed at short stories, radio plays and tv script; turned to Chap on “Playwrighting” in “How to” manual; cranked out The Beauty Queen in eight days. Quoted as saying: “My first love was always film so I try and introduce some cinematic aspects to my plays. A kind of speed. I like short, sharp set-ups and scenes. And I like telling stroiees which is something that theatre has lost over the last 20 and 30 years and which film always had.” Admires Scorcese, Tarantino, David Mamet and Harold Pinter. Tasker writes: ‘Like Synge, McDonagh did not live in the west but as a visitor listened to the daily speech of people remote from the city.’

The skull in Connemara’, MacDonagh’s play-title, is a phrase in Lucky’s speech (Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot), and usually equated with the Toroe Stone in commentaries on that play. It is said that the title was bestowed on the play at the prompting of Gary Hynes.

Couch potato?: McDonagh claims not to have read Irish drama and calls himself a couch potato [tv addict]. (Christina Mahony, Boston Humanities lecture, 2001.)

Photo-call: Martin MacDonagh photographed with Dawn Bradford (and Amelia Crowley) at opening of The Beauty Queen of Leenane at the Gaiety (The Irish Times, 26 Feb. 2000).

In Bruges (2008) is ‘delighted to introduce one of the most anticipated and astonishing new films of the year for Opening Night Gala Screening. Academy Award-winning writer/director Martin McDonagh takes audiences on a killingly funny trip In Bruges, which is world premiered as the opening-night film of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. Mr. McDonagh makes his feature directorial debut on the film from his own original screenplay. His plays which include The Lieutenant of Inishmore and The Pillowman have brought him two Olivier Awards and four Tony Award nominations. He wrote and directed Six Shooter, starring Brendan Gleeson, which earned him the 2006 Academy Award for Best Live-Action Short Film.

Quiet Leenane: Leenane, Co. Galway is the location of the 30-acre farmland and cottage which was used as the setting for the film version of John B. Keane’s play The Field. The cottage failed to sell at auction at a highest bid of Ir£250,000 and was withdrawn in August 2000. The farm was capable of attracting EU headage payments of up to £22,000 if fencing problems were addressed. (Irish Times, 26 Aug. 2000.)

Stella McCuskar was nominated for the Irish Times Best Actress Award 2009, with her realisation of Mag in a Lyric Theatre (Belfast) production of Beauty Queen. (See Irish Times, Weekend Review, 16 Jan. 2010).

The Banshees of Inisherin (2022) - set during in the Irish Civil War (1920-22) and concerning two inhabitants of the title-island (modelled expressly on Aran) whose friendship breaks down and degenerates into Gonzo violence with a catastrophic outcome. A detailed account of the plot - spoiler! - is given in Wikipedia, where the last of exclusively Irish actors involved in the cast is also given as follows:

  • Colin Farrell as Pádraic Súilleabháin
  • Brendan Gleeson as Colm Doherty
  • Kerry Condon as Siobhán Súilleabháin
  • Barry Keoghan as Dominic Kearney
  • Gary Lydon as Garda Peadar Kearney
  • Pat Shortt as publican Jonjo Devine
  • Sheila Flitton as Mrs. McCormick
  • Bríd Ní Neachtain as postmistress Mrs. O'Riordan
  • Jon Kenny as Gerry
  • Aaron Monaghan as Declan
  • David Pearse as priest
  • Lasairfhíona Ní Chonaola as female singer
    John Carty as older musician 1
The filming was conducted on Achill where locations used included Cloughmore (JJ Devine’s Pub), Corrymore Lake (Mrs. McCormick’s cottage), Keem Bay (Colm Doherty’s house), Purteen Harbour (O’Riordan’s shop), and St. Thomas’s Church in Dugort.

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