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Review: The Lonesome West at the Old Fitz Theatre

By: undefined undefinedJanuary 20, 2024

The Lonesome West

Old Fitz Theatre, 18 January 2024.

Reviewed by Paul Neeson (Arts Wednesday)

The Lonesome West – Old Fitz Theatre

This has to be the best ensemble cast I have seen in a very long time. The acting second to nothing I’ve ever experienced in live theatre. The Lonesome West in the hands of Empress Theatre’s creative team turned this play into something relentless, with breathtaking pace and virtuoso performances. I feel a certain privilege to have been a member of what can only be described as a spellbound audience. A bleak, dark comedy that had us teetering between laughter, breath holding gasps, and tears.

Written 25 years ago by Martin McDonagh (In BrugesThe Banshees of Inisherin) the writing is pitch perfect and still fresh and relevant a quarter of a century later. 

Valene (Andre de Vanny) and Coleman Connor (Lee Beckhurst)

Two brothers Valene (Andre de Vanny) and Coleman Connor (Lee Beckhurst) have a long history of sibling rivalry, bitter quarrelling with tit for tat feuding that has persisted and escalated over many years. The two protagonists are expertly realised by de Vanny and Beckhurst with portrayals that convince us they have been actual brothers all their lives. It’s an intense focussed study in all aspects of the human condition as realised and acted out by the brothers. Not once did one get the feeling they were acting out the dialogue from a script, the delivery of their lines so expertly natural, so perfectly delivered and timed – flawless, a rare thing in live theatre. The subtle (and often not so subtle) pushing of emotional buttons and the predictable responses speak to us of a fractious relationship that has developed over the decades of their lives. 

Father Welsh (Abe Mitchell)

The hapless Father Welsh (Abe Mitchell) tries to quell the quarrelling and angst but the task is way beyond his control. A frail soul, a romantic idealist, always hopeful, a true believer in the human spirit – perhaps too much so because he always ends up being disappointed by it. Driven to alcohol, Mitchell’s poignant interpretation communicates all the conflicting emotions raging through his troubled spirit. His ability to convey meaning – and elicit pathos – through the art of physical expression both in body and face was again a rare feat, we were able to read every thought, nuance and feeling as the drama unfolds to its tragic conclusion.

Throw into the mix friend Girleen Kelleher (Ruby Henaway) who is equally dysfunctional but in a way she reflects the better side of humanity. Ultimately her revelation of her secret love of the priest is too late. Again a performance in which more is conveyed without words, only masterly acting.

Girleen Kelleher (Ruby Henaway)

Director Anna Houston drove this production from her desire to resurrect an enduring script. She paced the performance to perfection. The fast virtuoso dialogue was expertly contrasted with dramatic pauses to hold and heighten the tension. Just when you thought the break was about to go for a split second too long, the action resumed.

And special mention has to go to Fight Choreographer, Scott Witt, for his directing of the several fight scenes. The movement appeared ‘natural’ and real and made us believe the brothers had been living out this violent dance for years. 

Just when you thought Father Welsh’s nurturing influence had some success as the brothers tried to change their ways, it turns out saying sorry just isn’t enough, and is it ever? And therein lies the real tragedy of the play. Entrenched violence is impossible to circumvent for any sustained length of time. Violence is, in the end, alas indelible, and sorry is at times never enough. 

Season runs to 4 February.

Listen to a recent interview with Andre de Vanny below.

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