Authors: Martin McDonagh

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

British playwright

Author Works


The Beauty Queen of Leenane, pr., pb. 1996

The Cripple of Inishmaan, pr. 1996

A Skull in Connemara, pr., pb. 1997

The Lonesome West, pr., pb. 1997

Plays, pb. 1999

The Lieutenant of Inishmore, pr., pb. 2001

Radio Play:

The Woolf and the Woodcutter, 1995


The drama of Martin McDonagh (muhk-DUHN-uh), characterized by cruel and merciless humor, is claimed by two contemporary literary and dramatic traditions, the Irish and the British. Often viewed as representative of a new kind of theater, Rough Theatre, McDonagh’s plays have received enthusiastic praise by both critics and audiences for his talent for storytelling and gripping dramatic dialogue.{$I[A]McDonagh, Martin[MacDonagh, Martin]}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;McDonagh, Martin[MacDonagh, Martin]}{$I[geo]IRELAND;McDonagh, Martin[MacDonagh, Martin]}{$I[tim]1970;McDonagh, Martin[MacDonagh, Martin]}

McDonagh grew up in Camberwell, a blue-collar district in South London. His parents had emigrated from Ireland before his birth. His father, a construction worker, was a native of Connemara, Galway, while his mother, a part-time housekeeper, came originally from Sligo. Martin McDonagh spent most of his summers in the west of Ireland, thus maintaining a live connection to an Irish cultural and linguistic heritage. He dropped out of school at sixteen and worked as a civil servant while writing, first, short stories and then, inspired by his brother John, radio scripts and screenplays. After five years of continuous manuscript rejections, McDonagh began writing plays whose plots and characters have reanimated, both respectfully and irreverently, Ireland’s theatrical tradition, especially the work of Dion Boucicault, John Millington Synge, and Sean O’Casey. In 1995 McDonagh became a writer in residence at the Royal National Theatre in London.

It was The Beauty Queen of Leenane that brought McDonagh public and critical acclaim in 1996. He claims to have written the play in only eight days. With The Beauty Queen of Leenane, a coproduction of the Druid Theatre in Galway and London’s Royal Court Theatre, McDonagh won the Evening Standard Award and the London Critics Circle Award for most promising newcomer to the British stage as well as the Writer’s Guild Award for best fringe play. His success continued in 1998 in New York, where The Beauty Queen of Leenane was presented by the Atlantic Theater Company. Nominated for six Tony Awards, the play won four. It also received New York’s Drama Desk, Drama League, Lucille Lortel, and Outer Critics Circle Awards for best play as well Time magazine’s Best of Theater Award. Among his other prizewinning plays are The Cripple of Inishmaan and the black comedy The Lonesome West, which in 1999 was nominated for a Tony Award in four categories, including Best Play. In 1997, A Skull in Connemara received a nomination for an Olivier Award for Best New Comedy. McDonagh’s radio play The Woolf and the Woodcutter brought him distinction at the London Radio Playwrights’ Festival in 1995, and, three years later, a bronze medal for best writing at the International Radio Festival of New York.

In interviews for the British press, McDonagh admits that his training in the 1990’s came from complete immersion in television, cinema, and pop culture; he found the London stage boring. He acknowledges the artistic and stylistic influences of playwrights Sam Shepard and David Mamet as well as film directors Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and Sergio Leone, among others. However, the gripping sense of place his Leenane and Aran Islands trilogies convey, the former containing The Beauty Queen of Leenane, A Skull in Connemara, and The Lonesome West, and the latter, The Cripple of Inishmaan, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, and his planned The Banshees of Inisheer, is recognizably rural Irish. In the comic exploration of inflammatory, disturbingly excessive despair and violence, of an exaggerated, cruel reality and psychological extremes, McDonagh’s work skillfully manipulates the possibilities of melodrama and the grotesque.

BibliographyBoles, William C. “Violence at the Royal Court: Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane and Mark Ravenhill’s Shopping and Fucking.” Theatre Symposium: A Journal of the Southeastern Theatre Conference 7 (1999): 125-135. Explores the use of physical and emotional violence as an effective dramatic tool in the plays of McDonagh and a contemporary.Bolger, Dermot, ed. Druids, Dudes, and Beauty Queens: The Changing Face of the Irish Theatre. Dublin: New Island, 2001. A collection of essays that position McDonagh, Brian Friel, Marina Carr, and Donal O’Kelly among Ireland’s most talented and provocative young dramatists.Brustein, Robert. “The Rebirth of Irish Drama.” The New Republic, April 7, 1997. Discusses the plays of McDonagh and his contemporary, Sebastian Barry, as the first wave of a possible renaissance in Irish theater not unlike the Irish Literary Renaissance in the early twentieth century.Huber, Werner. “The Plays of Martin McDonagh.” In Twentieth Century Theatre and Drama in English: Festscrift for Heinz Kosok on the Occasion of His Sixty-fifth Birthday, edited by Jürgen Kamm. Trier, Germany: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 1999. McDonagh’s work is examined in section 2 of a large volume of articles.Lyman, Rick. “Most Promising (and Grating) Playwright.” New York Times Magazine, January 25, 1998, pp. 16-19. Biographical profile of the playwright on the eve of his stage debut in the United States. McDonagh discusses why he decided to become a writer and how he drifted into writing for the stage.O’Toole, Finian. “Martin McDonagh.” Bomb 63 (1998): 48-50. Interview in which McDonagh discusses his plays in the context of Irish culture and literature and the Irish storytelling tradition.Rubik, Margarete, and Elke Mettinger-Schartmann, eds. (Dis)Continuities: Trends and Traditions, Contemporary Theatre and Drama in English. Trier, Germany: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 2002. Contains two well-written pieces that examine the dramatic structure of McDonagh’s plays. Peter Lenz approaches the Leenane trilogy in terms of its reworking of the Irish literary canon, while Werner Huber traces cinematic influences upon McDonagh’s work.Sierz, Aleks. In-Yer-Face Theatre: British Drama in the 1990’s. London: Faber & Faber, 2001. In chapter 8, The Beauty Queen of Leenane is discussed as a critique of modern life and its cruelty and violence. McDonagh is situated firmly within a contemporary British drama and theater, considered a reaction against the politically correct work of previous generations of British playwrights.
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