The Lonesome West at The Liverpool Royal Court

Posted on 29 April 2017
By Chris High
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For those familiar to run around, slapstick, in yer face, fall down funny comedy coming out of the Liverpool Royal Court productions, be aware: The Lonesome West, which is currently running, is none of the above. Instead, what In Bruges writer Martin McDonagh has created is a rich, darkly humorous, at times unsettling play that examines faith, loyalty, honour and family ties on a level that is unexpected to say the least.

Two brothers trapped together in the old family home after their old man’s unfortunate death, Valene and Coleman pass the days bickering over crisps and figurines while annoying the bejaysus out of each other. Father Welsh tries to bring some light to their lives, but he’s not so good at that sort of thing. You get the feeling that there will be more funerals for the neighbours before the week is out, although they’ll only show up if there are vol-au-vents.

The Royal Court Liverpool likes to dip their toe into the ‘different’ from time-to-time. Think Misery, The Flags and Down the Dock Road through the years as just three examples. Yet its staple remains big scouse comedies such as Brick Up the Mersey Tunnels and The Royal, the latter of which is set to return later in the year.

It is these shows and their ilk that have become the expected norm, so a departure can be said to be nothing but refreshing, so all power to The Royal Court for changing tack to keep us on our toes … as long as the comedy play is a) Good and b) Funny.

Does The Lonesome West fulfil these criteria? Yes, largely, although it is rather more thought provoking – more cerebral – than arguably anything to have ever been staged here before. In short, the ride is daunting but nevertheless worthwhile, thanks in no small part to a vice like script that oozes class and performances that deserve acclaim across the board.

Allan Devally’s Father Welsh is a joy to behold; his conflicted faith-over-abilities persona really strikes a chord that resonates throughout. As the two at war brothers Valene and Coleman, Paul Duckworth and Kieran Cunningham are simply outstanding, bringing pathos and energy to everything they do, so that at times their animosity becomes disturbingly tangible.

Yet it is Ann O’Riordan – making her Royal Court Debut – as the flirtatious, mischievous Girleen who truly stands out. Vivacious, tempestuous and sassy, hers is a performance that ripples with talent so that, in the end, the emotions she evokes rise and fall like the Irish Sea in a mild storm.

A special mention should also be made of yet another glorious set design that truly encapsulates the claustrophobic intensity The Lonesome West needs to truly set out its darkness.

This is a production that, arguably, can be seen as something of a brave move that might well be a bit ‘Marmite’. However, with that said, sit back and marvel at the pure dexterity of theatre and enjoy what is above all else a beautifully crafted two hours of dark enjoyment, guaranteed to get you thinking. After all, any play that references Cool Hand Luke in its song choice of Paul Newman singing Plastic Jesus before the interval has to be admired.

The Lonesome West
The Liverpool Royal Court Theatre
April 21 – May 20
Author: Martin McDonagh
Director: Robert Farquhar
Cast: Keiran Cunningham, Paul Duckworth, Alan Devally, Ann O’Riordan
Running Time: 2 hrs 15 mins
PR Rating: **** Darkly Triumphant

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