A single hanging lightbulb glows in the darkness as a perfectly chosen Peaky Blinders-esque soundtrack greets the audience on arrival to the opening night of NUIG Dramsoc’s production of The Lonesome West.
Written by Martin McDonagh, the play charts the endless hilarious bickering of two brothers, forced to live in harmony after their father’s death, all the while highlighting the dysfunctions of the West of Ireland. It is a complex play, testing the fine balance between comedy and tragedy – a test director Robbie Walsh passed with flying colours.
This production was fuelled by the comic excellence of Shane Gaffney as Valene, and the consistent grumpiness of Jack Kearney as Coleman. The chemistry between the pair was completely believable and their character development was fascinating. Gaffney’s gestures and mannerisms captured the vivid sliminess of Valene with his tapping fingers and moustache-stroking, while Kearney sold the unpredictability of his character. In a play so dependent on a dynamic, believable duo, Robbie Walsh struck gold with these two.
In support of the two leading men, Cathal Ryan played the pathetic Fr. Welsh convincingly, showing particularly strong emotion in his Act 2 monologue, which really altered the atmosphere on stage. He was joined in support by Gráinne White in the role of Girleen, the only youthful presence in the play. Despite looking too old to play the role of a schoolgirl, White made up for it with her energetic innocence on stage, interspersed with moments of heart-breaking emotion.
At times, some lines were lost because of faltering diction and speaking too fast, and some moments of emotion were hidden by faces aimed at the floor rather than out to the audience. These issues were mainly noticeable at the beginning, however, and overall the quality of acting in this production was extremely high and all accents were convincing and consistent.
The experience of director Robbie Walsh shone in this confident production. The development of all characters on stage was achieved fluidly. One of the most impressive aspects of this play was the clever use of effects such as music, lighting and dry ice which all contributed to a very professional looking production. While good use of the space was made there was some repetition in the staging of some of the Stepbrothers-esque fight scenes between the brothers, and it’s difficult to distinguish one from the other. That said, this did not detract from the climax of the play which held the audience captive until its finish.
Visually, this was a very appealing production although there were some issues. Whether down to the set or direction, the time period in which it was set was not clear and it seemed far more dated than its 1990’s setting. That said, this may have been a decision made to evoke the backwardness of the West at this time.
The single hanging bulb in the middle of Valene and Coleman’s kitchen-turned-battleground was a striking feature and worked beautifully. In an effort to create an appearance of crumminess, newspapers were strung about the stage in excess. With no reference in the play to the papers it was somewhat confusing and perhaps a more imaginative way of portraying disarray could have been achieved. That said, many other props greatly enhanced the space; namely, Valene’s precious stove, the round wooden table, and hanging crucifix.
Male costumes in this play were very strong, with eye-catching suits that were a welcome change from the regular grey and black. The mismatched combinations of Valene were particularly effective and created the illusion of the ‘man who can’t dress himself’. Unfortunately, the confusion regarding the age of Girleen wasn’t helped by her costumes. For example, this might have been clarified had she worn a real school uniform rather than a tartan pinafore-like dress. Aside from this, the rest of the actors’ characters were enhanced by their clothing which was very plausible.
NUIG Dramsoc’s production of The Lonesome West had a professionalism which I did not anticipate. A visual treat, with crafty effects and epic storytelling, there was nothing lonesome about it.