A Skull in Connemara – Oldham Coliseum

“I had a drink and she had no seatbelt on… Pure drink driving is all it was”….. Or was it?

Seven years ago, the wife of Mick Dowd, the local gravedigger, died under mysterious circumstances. Although he pleads innocence, claiming that it was a drink driving accident, it is not enough to stop the villagers casting their aspersions on Mick. Rumour has it, it was murder. When his job leads him to exhume bodies from the Connemara graveyard, he discovers that Oona’s bones are missing.

Exhuming bodies. Gravedigger, Mick Dowd (John O’Dowd) and Police Detective, Thomas (Griffin Stevens). Photo Credit – Joel Chester Fildes

Written by BAFTA and Academy Award winner, Martin McDonagh, A Skull in Connemara is a delightfully dark comedy perfectly poised with mystery and intrigue. What more can you expect from the writer of In Bruges and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri?

Like his other works, this play is wickedly funny, with cracking one-liners, witty interplay, and amusing dialogue. Most of these are gifted to Liam Heslin’s charming “feckin idjit“, Mairtin. From his drunken conversations about cooking hamsters to questioning “what happens to your willy when you die?“, he is a fantastically funny character, played with brilliant energy and comic timing from Heslin.

Mick (John O’Dowd) and a drunken Mairtin (Liam Heslin). Photo Credit – Joel Chester Fildes

In addition to this sharp comedy, A Skull in Connemara is a thrilling murder mystery that keeps its audience guessing throughout. McDonagh’s script builds uncertainty through mastering subtle layers of ambiguity. You never quite know the truth. You are unsure who to believe or who to trust. A concept strikingly relevant in this age of fake news.

The plot has several twists, which deftly deceive the audience and amplify the mystery of the characters. The play’s protagonist, Mick, is an impenetrable enigma. John O’Dowd lends the character an ambivalent, brooding manner that can either be interpreted as contemplative grief or calculative anger. His character is a mysterious riddle that you never quite get to answer. It is left for the audience to decide whether they believe his version of events, or the gossiping villagers.

Widower or murderer? Mick Dowd (John O’Dowd). Photo Credit – Joel Chester Fildes

Katie Scott’s set design is inspired, brilliantly reflecting the dark, ominous tone of the play. Two graves occupy the front of the stage, one of which is Oona’s. Even when the action is located in Mick’s house, the grave is a haunting, sombre reminder of Mick’s grief (or guilt) and his grim occupation.

When the location changes, the walls of Mick’s house become transparent, revealing an eerie graveyard, with more foreboding gravestones. It is a clever device that works well, providing efficient, smooth transitions between the two settings. Coupled with a smoke machine, Scott’s superb design creates an unnerving, “Awful ghoulish” atmosphere that suits the plot and characters perfectly.

A Skull in Connemara is a delightfully dark, sinister comedy that is both amusing and intriguing. Performed by four skilled actors, its characters are mysteriously fascinating. Curiously ambiguous, the play remains perplexing long after the show ends.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Tickets are available from Oldham Coliseum’s website. http://www.coliseum.org.uk/whats-on/

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