Jude Collins

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Paddy on-stage

Opening Day Press Conference - 2008 Sundance Film Festival
I remember about eight years ago seeing a Martin McDonagh play – ‘The Beauty Queen of Lenane’ - in London and thinking at the time how energetic and amusing his use of language was but how old-fashioned and caricature-ish his presentation of life in the west of Ireland was. A good laugh if you secretly loathed the west of Ireland and its people, a bit of a pain if you didn’t. I remembered ‘The Beauty Queen of Lenane’ when I read a review of another play of his ‘The Lieutenant of Inishmore’ in today’s Guardian. This one is about Mad Padraic, an INLA man who is torturing a drug pusher and gets enraged when his (Mad Paidraic’s) pet cat is killed. Balancing Mad Paidraic is Mairead, a ‘gun-toting teenager so seduced by the erotic pull of violence that she wants to form a terrorist splinter group, Wee Thomas’s Army, to fight for an Ireland fit for moggies’.

It’s probably not a good idea to criticize a play you haven’t seen but what the hell – the tone and content seem reasonably clear from this review. Paramilitaries are a psychotic bunch, they get drawn into violence because it gives them a sexual charge, their violence is coupled with a maudlin sentimentality, and they live in a mad, mad, mad, mad world different from the rest of us. It’s a neat way of responding to violent Irish nationalism, and one embraced with enthusiasm by a lot of ‘educated’ Irish as well as English people. McDonagh is half Irish, half English; since he’s employed the English side of himself to present this picture of crazed Irish terrorists, perhaps he’ll balance it with a thespian picture of blood-crazed British troops – say, the Parachute regiment – going on a shooting spree or torturing unfortunate natives unlucky enough to fall into their hands. Too far-fetched? Or maybe McDonagh believes it’s just violent Irishmen should be labeled ‘psychotic’ when they use physical force to achieve political ends? Whatever the reason, I’m tempted to think that McDonagh’s skill with language doesn’t really compensate for the moral laziness of his vision of Irish people.


  1. Good article Mr Collins. It has a lot in common with another great article (Why the oscars are a con) by John Pilger(JP)posted on informationclearingHouse website. If I'm reading you correctly, you are saying that the play projects a biased version of reality, whereas JP argues the same in relation to Holywood cinema, i.e good guys v bad guys with official enemies depicted as subhuman etc.

    Most people having lived their entire lives watching/reading/listening to western corporate film/tv/theatre/books/"news"papers/magazines are unaware of the fact that a lot of their "reality", consciousness, "knowledge" and "history" has been (misin-)formed/programmed/implanted/constructed/reinforced throughout their lives. This play would fall easily into the "official" (i.e BBC/Holywood USA/Murdoch etc etc) view of "reality". Please keep up the great work Mr Collins.

  2. I love your blogs Jude, but I have to disagree with you on this one. Are you saying there were no psychotic gunmen in the INLA or God preserve us in the Provisional IRA. I too seen the 'Beauty Queen of Leenane', but unlike you I thought the characterisation was brilliant. There is mad people out there, Martin McDonagh's genius is that he catches it and puts it down on paper for some people to enjoy.

  3. Hi Dickens - thanks for the tip-off and the compliment. Pilger is a fearless and clear-eyed critic of Western culture and politics. It's a bit daft going on about a play I haven't seen, as I say, but McDonagh really does have an old-fashioned, Paddy-the-mad-eejit flavour to his writing, in my limited experience. This sits well with people who want to dismiss the last forty years in the north of Ireland as a bunch of crazies. Whatever else it was, it wasn't that.

    Keep reading - and spread the word.

  4. Hi Rosienow

    Glad you enjoy the blogs. I agree there are or were psychotic gunmen in the INLA and in the IRA - but people like McDonagh/Colin Bateman/etc always select the madmen, always present crazed people who are so exaggerated, it's seriously misleading. Which may of course be the whole idea. While I thought the language in 'Beauty Queen' was pretty electric, in the end I thought the play was a cop-out from any thoughtful presentation of life in the west of Ireland - about which I do know a bit, being married to a woman from the West.
    Anyway, thanks for taking the time to respond (I sometimes wonder if ANYONE is out there) and tell ALL your friends...