The Lonesome West

Tue 18th – Sat 22nd October 2011


Fiona Kao

at 08:57 on 19th Oct 2011



Charlie Risius, the director, says, “We have entered and embraced the twisted world of the play rather than trying to alter it.” The Lonesome West is a tragedy wrapped in comedy wrapped in tragedy, the surrealism presented as reality, and Michael Campbell (playing Coleman) brings the show together with his scruffy appearance, persuasive swigs of poteen, and fecking attitude. While Coleman is well played, Valeen (played by Jack Hudson) only comes to life as a moon to the shining sun that is Coleman and doesn’t become real until the post-confession scene in which the audience ponders, “What has Father Welsh done to Valeen? The poor chap.” Likewise, Father Welsh, the insecure Catholic priest with many a moment's “crisis of faith,” pales in comparison, his death easily washed away. Girleen's (played by Genevieve Gaunt) final outburst of anger is the only force that can break up the entangled brothers, yet that anger has no coquettishness and playfulness to compare against in former scenes.

The hilarious lines are delivered with absolute seriousness—the brothers fighting over the right to touch the floor of the house, eat crisps, and read the magazine, the Father complaining to Coleman that killing one’s father over a haircut taunt is the stupidest reason he’s ever heard of, and the suspicious murders of the Irish town. Yet as the play enters the second half, the line between hilarity and gravity is blurred and the audience is left undecided whether to laugh at the characters’ misfortune or to sympathise with them. And the dog whose ears were hacked off? I just don’t have the heart to laugh when Coleman sets the ears on Valeen’s head with a deliciously victorious smile.

The murderous Irish town is set against the backdrop of Catholic notions of salvation, confession, and forgiveness. Just as Coleman turns funerals into festive events from which he can nick sausage rolls and vol au vents, confessions are given in a sometimes sincere and sometimes spiteful way. Valeen’s figurines, marked with V’s and placed stage-centre, are the weedy little brother’s way of ensuring salvation. In Father Welsh’s letter, he mulls over whether he could be canonized. In effect, he does. His relic is pinned just above the shotgun, looking down on the brothers with the threat of the eternal damnation of his own soul. Yet Girleen’s necklace draping his letter becomes a constant reminder that in attempting to save the brothers, the priest has broken the heart of an innocent girl. Is it his fault that no one would confess to the two murders and that one from his parish has drowned himself? Is it his fault that his final bet on the brothers’ reconciliation is twisted into a protective amulet for the spiteful and murderous Coleman?

The outlandish characters in outlandish circumstances are not so unlike us. They are dead serious about haircuts, crisps, women’s magazines, and dog’s ears, and so are we.


Helena Middleton

at 09:14 on 19th Oct 2011



The Lonesome West is a dark comedy by the writer and director of ‘In Bruges’ – fans of the film won’t be surprised by the lines about ‘darkies’ and ‘kiddy fiddling priests’ which serve as constant comic relief in a tale of a brothers’ conflict set in an Irish town where ‘God has no jurisdiction’.

Charlie Risius’ production is a brilliant example of what can be achieved when you trust the text, and trust the authenticity of the characters. When you first encounter the two brothers it is hard to believe that there are people who exist who care more about a new cooker than they do about an old friend killing themselves, and so they could easily be hammed up and become farcical. However Jack Hudson (Valene) and Michael Campbell (Coleman) play these moments with such sincerity that they transform into two fighting 10 year olds before your eyes, who really do burn with anger when they are called ‘gay’ and are capable of the kind of cruelty only children are. Except they aren’t children, they are grown men, and they have a gun to play with – a terrifying prospect.

The play is an excellent comedy and despite its darker moments is a lot of fun to watch. The comedic timing of all the cast members is spot on which lends even more weight to the tragic moments in the play. Genevieve Gaunt plays the bouncing, gum chewing, flirty Girleen whose performance demonstrates the extreme styles within the play. She too plays the comedy excellently, but then goes on to give a beautifully subtle portrayal of a disappointed teenager in her encounter with Father Welsh- or is it Walsh? Arthur Kendrick must also be praised for his interpretation of this disillusioned, liquor drinking, fragile priest. His attention to detail was excellent, in the presence of the two outlandish brothers he seemed to physically shrink, clutching his glass, or crossing his arms across his body at all times, as if he always needed to hold on to something. Risuis’ decision to often put him right in the corner of the stage also added to the sense that he was on the outside of a relationship he was struggling to understand.

A few tiny irks: towards the end of the play the flip from serious to comedic started to become a little predictable, every time something bad happened, you started anticipating the next joke. I also thought that Risuis could have been a little more inventive with the scene changes, which at times left the audience in the dark for an uncomfortably long time.

However these are small tarnishes in a production that is funny, tragic, brilliantly acted and directed and is a very enjoyable watch, even if you do occasionally squirm in your seat at some of the brothers’ actions. See it, you’ll be feckin’ missing out if you don’t!


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