Martin McDonagh has always divided critics. Some think his work cleverly deconstructs Irish theatre by exaggerating its absurd clichés of lonely spinsters and confused priests, whereas others have categorised his plays as crass and one-dimensional. Despite being compared with Synge and O'Casey, McDonagh has said he knows very little about either dramatist, but he does share their preoccupations with faith, family relationships and violence.
But what strikes me, above all, is that McDonagh's writing is funny. In The Lonesome West, eternal bachelor Valene Connor Frank McCusker kills his father for the heinous crime of insulting his hairstyle. Valene fights a constant battle of wills with his brother Coleman Lalor Roddy, who also lives in the family home, and tries to score points by laughing at Coleman's lack of sexual experience whilst Coleman contents himself by cooking Valene’s beloved collection of plastic religious figurines in the oven. As their arguments become increasingly petty, the priest, Fr. Welsh Enda Kilroy becomes more depressed by the unusual number of murders and suicides which have occurred since he joined the local parish.
Fr. Welsh is the play's pivotal figure, linking the brothers with the only other character, teenage town flirt Girleen Charlene McKenna, who is arguably the most sympathetic character and the only one who seems profoundly changed by events.
As in McDonagh's other work, the threat of violence is always present. The audience can laugh at the ridiculous sight of two men arguing about a packet of crisps, but Coleman and Valene's arguments are sharpened by a real bitterness.
Frank McCusker is horribly convincing as miserly Valene. His howl of anguish when he realises Coleman has cooked his prized figurines raises the biggest laugh of the night. But it's Lalor Roddy's portrayal of Coleman which really conveys the tension between comedy and aggression. He seems to be relatively relaxed but is more than willing to follow through on his threats of violence.
Sabine Dargent’s set is one of the strongest aspects of the production. The garish pink of the Connors' kitchen contrasts with the large black V painted on Valene's orange stove, while the roof of the brothers' home doubles as the town's favoured suicide spot and emphasises the claustrophobia of a small town.
The play did tend to lose momentum during Valene and Coleman's childhood confessions and some of McDonagh's dialogue in the final act seemed slightly repetitive. But there's no denying he can make an audience laugh. Patricide has never seemed so funny.