Martin McDonagh’s best-known works are his stage plays. Before turning to playwriting, he attempted a variety of literary forms, including screenplays and short fiction; however, his only early works to receive notice are two radio plays produced in Australia.
Martin McDonagh burst on the theatrical scene in the 1990’s with a series of stage plays that earned instant acclaim in both Great Britain and the United States for their traditional style and provocative content. He emerged as a playwright of consequence at the same time that several other young British playwrights, including Mark Ravenhill, Patrick Marder, and Sebastian Barry, were mounting similarly controversial plays. Their unabashedly graphic texts and unflinching depictions of emotional and physical violence earned them comparisons to the Angry Young Man movement spearheaded by John Osborne that revitalized the conservative cultural climate of Great Britain in the 1950’s.
When McDonagh’s first four plays ran simultaneously in London’s West End in a span of less than two years, it was a virtually unprecedented achievement, all the more remarkable for a previously unproduced playwright. After their initial stagings, all three plays in his Leenane Trilogy were staged in sequence as a marathon by the Druid Theatre in both Ireland and England.
In 1996, McDonagh won both the Evening Standard Theatre Award for most promising playwright for The Beauty Queen of Leenane and the Critics’ Circle Theatre Award for most promising playwright. The Broadway production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane won Tony awards for best actor, best actress, best featured actress, and best director. It was also nominated for best play, as was The Lonesome West in 1997.
Boles, 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.