Beauty Queen of Leenane is a dark delight, but watch without mother.
By Barry Lord
Martin McDonagh’s multi award winning The Beauty Queen of Leenane – first staged to wide critical acclaim in 1996 -has returned to the Gaiety Theatre after a highly successful run at the same venue last year – And what a dark delight it is too.
We are invited into the dingy kitchen of a rural Galway cottage and it is here we will stay with the occupants, Mag (Marie Mullen) a cantankerous 70-year-old woman and her daughter Maureen (Aisling O’Sullivan) the put-upon ‘skivvy’ solely responsible for keeping the home fire burning and ensuring her needy mother has all her comforts – including a daily intake of a deeply unappetising powdered milk drink.
The only relief from their humdrum country existence comes from the battered TV constantly screening sunny Australian soaps and the occasional visit from an obliging messenger, Ray Dooley (Aaron Monaghan) an overgrown child still pining for his missing swing ball.
A spanner in the works comes in the form of the sudden reappearance of Ray’s brother Pato (Marty Rea) a decent young builder, full of boyish charm and innocence, who divides his time between Galway and his job in England.
Suddenly Maureen’s long dormant sexual desires are awoken, along with the hitherto concealed spite of her mother. Maureen transforms from a downtrodden 40-year-old woman to a smitten 17-year-old girl before our eyes and the consequences of this reverse metamorphosis have tragic, and blackly comic, results for all concerned.
I will give no more plot details away but rest assured, there are plenty of surprises in store from McDonagh’s brilliantly constructed and fabulously funny script.
However, credit for the success of this latest Druid production doesn’t rest solely at the doorstep of the talented wordsmith.
Director Garry Hynes does a terrific job at balancing the story’s light and shade and manages to accommodate all the writer’s recurring themes; guilt, divided loyalties and the kind of simmering tension that ultimately culminates in explosive violence.
The set design, by Francis O’Connor, is oblique and deeply grimy; you can see every damp patch on the wall, every speck of dirt. It almost permeates the whole theatre. By the end, you may require a shower and, like one of the main characters, you wouldn’t dream of eating breakfast in this kitchen, especially when you learn where Mag empties her chamber pot.
The performances are magnificent. Despite rarely leaving her chair, Mullen manages to dominate the stage with a towering performance and she has the perfect sparring partner in the excellent O’Sullivan as Maureen, a woman desperate for the years her obedient service to her mother have stolen from her.
Both Rea and Monaghan as the Dooley brothers provide solid comic relief but comic relief is not in short supply, despite the austere setting and bleak subject matter.
This is a work often cited as one of McDonagh’s best loved plays. It’s really not difficult to see why.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane runs until April 15 and I would urge you to get along but perhaps best to watch without the mother.
Booking: Gaiety Theatre Box Office South King Street, Dublin 2, 0818 719388 10 am – 7 pm / Mon – Sat (subject to performance schedule)
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