Play fight … Schmitz & Cotton.
Photo: Marco del Grande
"Brothers up in arms"
Sydney Morning Herald, August 21, 2009
An Irish play about squabbling siblings will resonate here, writes Benito di Fonzo.
Merging psychotic characters, bleak outlooks and frank episodes of violence, controversial Irish playwright Martin McDonagh's tragicomedies have been hits around the world. So much so that in 1997, McDonagh became the first playwright since Shakespeare to have four plays running concurrently in England.
Peter Carstairs, best known as the director of award-winning Australian film September, has chosen McDonagh's 1997 black comedy The Lonesome West for his first foray into the world of theatre.
Carstairs feels audiences respond to the dramatic range of McDonagh's works.
"He moves from teenage love through to the hypocrisy of the church through to consumerism versus relationships through to happiness compared with living a miserable life - all within the space of two hours," Carstairs says.
The third part of McDonagh's Leenane Trilogy, The Lonesome West tells the story of squabbling Galway brothers Coleman (Toby Schmitz) and Valene (Travis Cotton). Whiskey-priest Welsh (Ryan Johnson) tries to steer them towards a love he himself is unable to secure, despite the attentions of bootlegger's daughter Girleen (Sibylla Budd).
The action takes place in a harsh landscape, where the local girls' football team is celebrated for putting its opponents in hospital and where murder, suicide and verbal abuses are everyday occurrences.
Welsh's reformations are hampered by a hypocrisy that allows the brothers to be absolved of murdering their father via the confessional, while a boy who commits suicide in the lake is eternally damned.
"There is an overlap between Australian taste and Martin McDonagh's style,'' Schmitz says. ''The Irish oral tradition of being a great storyteller even if you are illiterate has some currency here. It's a bard culture, if you will.''
Cotton adds: "I think Australians identify with underdogs. They can relate to these people."
Carstairs felt their years as friends and flatmates would inform the lead actors' portrayal of the constantly fighting kinsmen.
Schmitz admits such violence can be draining. "It does cost you having four fights, six days a week."
Cotton adds with a wry smile: "It's all about not hurting Toby."
THE LONESOME WEST
Until September 13, various times, Belvoir St Downstairs, Surry Hills, 9699 3444, $29/$23.