Tag Archive: Martin McDonagh

Martin McDonagh at his Beginnings and Today: The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Druid at BAM and Hangmen Projected.

Marie Mullen and Ailsing O'Sullivan in the Beauty Queen of Leenane by Druid at BAM.

I only managed to get to The Beauty Queen of Leenane on its very last day at BAM, a Sunday matinee—in fact Super Bowl Sunday. This momentous annual event seemed to have little effect on McDonagh fans, and BAM’s Harvey Theater was nearly full. The audience was of more than the usual interest, because, as the play took its course, many members of the audience seemed to know what was going to happen in advance. Only the special decorum of legitimate theater seemed to prevent some of them from calling out the lines ahead of the actors, as was the practice of denizens of the Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square at the Study Period screenings of Casablanca. These people had seen the show at the BAM run at least once before, and in many cases, I’m sure, back in the late 1990s, when it catapulted its author Martin McDonagh to fame and fortune. On the other hand, the audience was alive to the affecting events in the story, gasping or ahhing at unpleasant turns of events, as they unfolded.

Hangmen by Martin McDonagh, at Wyndham’s Theatre, London

Andy Nyman and David Morrissey in Hangmen at Wyndhams Theatre. Photo Tristram Kenton.

After a stunning stretch of plays set in the West Country of Ireland, the playwright Martin McDonagh found himself saddled with literary freight. Could he—or did he even want to—extend the legacy of Irish drama into unforeseeable territory? From Yeats onward, the audience for Irish drama had quaffed a brew of poverty and poetry, blarney and eloquence, myth and the kitchen sink. Suddenly, like the young Sam Shepard and his equally meteoric rise, McDonagh found a style no one anticipated, as viscerally violent as Shepard’s, as psychologically edgy, and as recklessly antagonistic toward the audience’s comfort zone.

Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane at The Young Vic

Desperate measures. Because anarchy and rebellion are the brutal threads that run through modern Irish history, you’d expect the same from its literature. But the greatest Irish writers going back to Yeats and Joyce have avoided Soviet-style social realism. Some have kept their distance from Ireland altogether, including London-born Martin McDonagh, the greatest writer about the Troubles who never experienced them first hand. They are the toxic air he breathed from a distance but still choked on.

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