Review: The Beauty Queen Of Leenane
(From left) Julia Flatley (Maureen) and Amanda Waggott (Mag) - photo by Robert Piwko
Mag : Amanda Waggott
Maureen : Julia Flatley
Pato : Nick Cannon
Ray : Simon Brooke
with the voice of James Killeen
Set in Leenane in County Galway, Martin McDonagh's first play tells the darkly comic tale of Maureen Folan, a plain lonely woman in her early forties, and Mag, her manipulative ageing mother.
Mag's interference in Maureen's first and possibly final chance of a loving relationship sets in motion a train of events that leads inexorably towards the play's terrifying denouement.
On my first encounter with this play some time ago a woman sitting behind me, talking to her friend just prior to the start of the show, said ...
"This is really, really depressing, but a wonderful play".
My neighbour on that occasion certainly got the second part absolutely spot on.
"Wonderful" is an apt description in spite of the play's tragic content, and really is one to catch if you haven't seen it before.
But I'm still not sure about how depressing it actually is, though it is sad and poignant.
There are, most certainly, depressing aspects but it might be how one relates to the extraordinary events in this tragic but riveting drama that will affect just how depressing you find it.
You really have to see it to understand the complexities of the piece and make your own mind up.
Maureen and her mother Mag live in a ramshackled, decaying property at the top of a steep hill in County Galway in Ireland.
It's a claustrophobic situation in which 40-something Maureen basically serves as her 70 year-old mother's skivvy.
She makes her mother Complan (a nutritional supplement made with hot water), porridge and tea for her all day, every day and feeds her a particular brand of biscuits (which she specifically buys to irritate her mother).
In Maureen we find a woman who's obviously missed out along the path of life and yearns for something different.
She's only ever been kissed by two men in her entire life, and that's as far as her experience with the opposite sex has gone.
When we first encounter the pair, Maureen seems excessively caustic towards her ageing parent.
But Mr McDonagh cleverly shifts the focus on the balance of power in the relationship when we see Mag burn a message inviting Maureen to a party.
That shifting focus is important here since we're almost being invited to take sides in this grating mother-daughter relationship.
Though that might sound dour and forbidding, it's actually offset with plenty of humour interspersed throughout the unfolding events.
There are numerous laugh-out-loud moments, but sometimes the humour manifests itself as the lip-biting variety when one is uncertain whether to laugh or not.
And there are moments when the audience's reaction during the play also provides humour, for example as we hear audible groans when Mag empties her chamber pot.
The mother-daughter relationship is to some extent contrasted with another pair of relatives - Pato and his younger brother Ray, who complete the cast of characters.
Pato offers romantic hope to Maureen as well as a means to escape her mother and a life of repetitive drudgery.
Collette Dockery directs a hugely talented ensemble here with sensitive and meticulous efficiency, eliciting highly believable and laudable performances.
Julia Flatley is mesmerising as Maureen, finding a complex blend of personality traits that underscore Maureen's despair and frustration with an underlying darker tone that hints at mental instability and, at times, menace.
Amanda Waggott also finds different tonal levels in her description of Mag veering from almost demanding infant to conniving, devious crone who will seemingly stop at nothing to keep her daughter-slave in harness.
Nick Cannon delivers a well-defined portrayal of the down-to-earth Pato who, like Maureen, finds himself isolated working in London and similarly yearns for romantic companionship and escape.
And there's terrific support from Simon Brooke as the youthfully chipper, sometimes exasperated Ray who acts for the most part as a go-between but harbours a strange poker fixation and rails resentfully at Maureen about his lost swingball that she took from him years before.
Phillip Ley's lovingly executed design provides the perfect setting, describing a shabby dwelling that hasn't seen much love or care in decades, ably reflecting the nature of the decaying relationship at the heart of this play.
All-in-all, Tower Theatre Company's production is a top-notch, totally absorbing revival of Martin McDonagh's 1996 play that combines comedy and tragedy in almost equal measure.
A wonderful and unmissable evening's theatre.
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ActDrop listing for Tower Theatre
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