Martin McDonagh

Definition

Theater

  • (1970 - ) Irish playwright and film-maker, whose works blend melodrama, lyricism, and black comedy. The son of a construction worker, McDonagh was born and brought up in South London but spent regular childhood holidays in Galway, where most of his plays are set: he later recalled "the lunar quality, the remoteness, the wildness"of the area. Determined to become a writer, he left school at 16 and spent years on the dole or in routine jobs while attempting to write plays and film scripts.

    Remarkably, the six plays that would make his name were all drafted in one furious burst of activity in 1994. The first of these to be staged, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, was premiered by Galway's Druid Theatre in 1996 and seen at the Royal Court a few months later. This tense, poignant tale of a middle-aged spinster and her manipulative mother earned rave reviews and went on to find success on Broadway. McDonagh's so-called 'Leenane trilogy' was completed by A Skull in Connemara and The Lonesome Road, both of which received Druid-Royal Court co-productions in 1997. While the plays' rich use of Galway speech rhythms brought inevitable comparisons with Synge, others noted the influence of horror movies and TV soaps. With the debut of another play, The Cripple of Inishmaan, at the Royal National Theatre in 1997, McDonagh achieved the unique feat of having four new plays staged in the West End during a single season. By contrast, four years would pass before he found a company willing to produce The Lieutenant of Inishmore, a grotesque and in places stomach-churningly violent satire on militant Republicanism. When the play was repeatedly rejected, McDonagh stated that he would submit no new work until The Lieutenant was staged: the RSC duly took up the gauntlet in 2001 and was rewarded with a critical and popularsuccess.

    A departure from McDonagh's familiar subject matter came with The Pillowman, a black comedy about a writer in an unnamed police state: the play won a cluster of awards when it was seen at the National in 2003 and on Broadway a year later. After this, however, he announced his intention to write no more plays "until I've lived a little more ... and I have more to say that I haven't said already". He then spent several years working in the cinema before returning to the stage with the US-setA Behanding in Spokane, which opened on Broadway in 2010.

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