See review in its original context here by Cameron Woodhead for The Age.
A Skull in Connemara is the second and least well-known play in McDonagh’s Leenane trilogy, and the most ghoulish and macabre of the three. It delves (quite literally) into the graves of the unquiet dead of Leenane, whose estate is rightly to be envied by those still living in the town – riven as it is by small minds and wagging tongues, crushing boredom and endemic malice.
Every year, the town’s gravedigger Mick Dowd (Chris Bunworth) exhumes the remains in a section of the local cemetery. It’s a murderous chore made worse by the presence of the thick-skulled chatterbox Mairtin Hanlon (Tom Barton), and his dour copper brother Thomas (Pete Reid).
Worse still, this time he’ll be forced to dig up his dead wife Oona. She died seven years ago, in a drink-driving accident with Mick at the wheel – though local gossip holds the reality was more sinister.
Bunworth’s steely, tortured performance holds the production together. There’s an attractive familiarity to his idle gasbagging with Mary Johnny Rafferty (Marg Downey), one of those bingo-obsessed biddies rural Catholicism is built on.
And to the audience’s amusement and delight Downey, with her immense gift for character-based humour, brings the old stickybeak to life with slack-jawed, narrow-eyed comic precision.
Clever set and lighting design generates an eerie, gothic atmosphere for the descent into the graveyard, and Barton’s boundlessly irritating Mairtin provides an excellent pivot for Bunworth as the mildness drops to expose a chasm of violence, rage and despair.
David Cameron’s direction serves the play well, especially in capturing the swerve from menace and mounting dread (the scene where the pair drunkenly smash skulls has a particular horrific force) to the absurd deflations of dark farce.
More overtly funny than The Beauty Queen of Leenane, this production of A Skull from Connemara is worthy complement to it.