Theatre review: The Lonesome West, Glasgow

Keith Fleming as Coleman and David Ganly as Valene
Keith Fleming as Coleman and David Ganly as Valene
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There are two things worth noting before we tangle with Martin McDonagh’s great 1997 black comedy, now revived in a superb and satisfying Tron production by Andy Arnold.

The Lonesome West | Tron Theatre, Glasgow | Rating ****

The first is that the play – the last in the Leenane trilogy – stands firmly in the Irish tradition of Synge’s Playboy Of The Western World, in that it portrays the people of the far west of Ireland as a strange breed, infinitely more concerned about the form and drama of things, and about petty points of pride and status, than they are about the value of human life itself.

And the second is that it was written at the height of the exhausting negotiations that led to the 1998 Belfast Agreement, and the present fragile peace in Northern Ireland. So that behind its story of the bitter low-level warfare between middle-aged brothers Coleman and Valene, and of the doomed attempts of the young parish priest Father Welsh to put an end to their mutual baiting and cruelty, there lies a whole world of metaphor about a people allegedly too stiff-necked to give an inch, in the pursuit of mere peace and survival.

It’s doubtful whether McDonagh’s vision of Connemara life is fair, of course; but what’s undeniable is its sheer comic force, as it conjures up ever more hilarious and brilliantly-written scenes of guerrilla warfare in the joyless kitchen of the brothers’ house.

The play culminates in a superb satirical sequence about the idea of apology as a way of putting past disputes behind us, played with shattering, hilarious brilliance by Keith Fleming’s Coleman and David Ganly’s Valene.

And McDonagh’s final stroke of genius is to leave us in no doubt that behind all the cruel hilarity, there is absolute and intolerable human suffering, for those who can no longer perpetuate the myths and play the game; a long walk into cold water, and then the dark.

• Until 23 July