With its beautifully formed, manipulatively drip-fed narrative and staggering final twist (fit to rival that of Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter), The Beauty Queen of Leenane is like a vintage bottle brimming with potential to be uncorked by talented teams of creatives. Served anew by director Rachel O’Riordan, the play flows forth in a gripping, gut-wrenching production co-produced by the Lyric Hammersmith and Chichester Festival Theatre, where the show opened back in September before transferring to London.
Ingrid Craigie in The Beauty Queen Of Leenane. Photo: Helen Maybanks
In the remote village of Leenane, Galway, a place deserted by those with a whiff of an opportunity to leave, 40-year-old virgin Maureen is holed up with her dependent 70-year-old mother Mag. Bitter loathing and resentment festers between them, and when an invitation is extended to Maureen to embark on a more exciting life, Mag goes to lengths to sabotage it.
McDonagh is a master of black comedy and The Beauty Queen of Leenane pushes the genre to its limits. Alarming anecdotes of domestic abuse between Mag and Maureen are interjected with talk of tea. Later, a grisly act is carried out on stage while a lilting Irish slip jig plays softly on the radio in the background.
At first, the toxic mother-daughter relationship between Mag and Maureen is reminiscent of Amanda and Laura in Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie. But what starts as petty jabs at one another swiftly escalates into threats more sinister (Maureen telling Mag she would be happy to die first if she knew her mother would be raped and murdered makes for especially uncomfortable listening).
Orla Fitzgerald and Adam Best in The Beauty Queen Of Leenane. Photo: Helen Maybanks
On press night, the cast seemed unaware of how successfully the play’s humour would land, delivering lines which went unheard beneath the rolling laughter. This could be ironed out as the run unfolds.
Orla Fitzgerald is a blunt and fiery Maureen, her brashness and near farcical snatching at props embodying her exhaustion with her circumstances. Ingrid Craigie’s beady-eyed Mag is poised to push Maureen’s buttons; sat rigid in her rocking chair, her fretful, malicious gaze follows her daughter around the room while she croaks out tedious requests for tea and soup.
Kwaku Fortune has a tendency to gobble his words as Ray, but this could be a studied characterisation (fast-talking mumblers are not uncommon in remote Irish villages). Regardless, he offers a solid portrayal of a young man itching to leave behind the boredom of his errands. Adam Best is fittingly cast as the strapping but caring Pato, who returns from a construction job in London to the welcome of a small town boy who has made it in Hollywood against the odds.
Orla Fitzgerald and Kwaku Fortune in The Beauty Queen Of Leenane. Photo: Helen Maybanks
All this plays out in a naturalistic kitchen-cum-living room designed by Good Teeth Theatre. Browning floral paper lines the walls, an Aga glows from one side of the room while a stove heats porridge and a kettle boils water for Complan in another. Above, a night sky looms at the windows, while an imposing tree (designed by Emma Hughes) appears ready to break the glass and burst the stifling atmosphere within.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane is meticulously set up, teasing us with a string of simple plot developments that it allows us to guess before they land, then felling us entirely with its final, crushing twist. As this revelation leaves us struggling to grasp a sense of reality and decipher who has been manipulated on stage, we realise it's we, the audience, who have been utterly hoodwinked.
|What||The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Lyric Hammersmith review|
|Where||Lyric Hammersmith, Lyric Square, King St, W6 0QL | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Hammersmith (All lines) (underground)|
09 Oct 21 – 06 Nov 21, 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|