BWW REVIEW: Hilarious And Harrowing, THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE Takes A Look Into The Lives Of The Forgotten
Monday 25th November 2019, 6:30pm, Roslyn Packer Theatre
THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE presents a gripping insight into Irish life with Martin McDonagh's trademark dark humour. Under Paige Rattray's direction, the challenge of two generations of women living under one roof is played out with an oddly wonderful disturbing blend of comedy and callousness.The first of McDonagh's Leenane Trilogy, THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE takes the audience inside the trauma filled stone walls of a remote stone cottage on the inhospitable rocky hills near Leenane in Northern County Galway. Within the grime layered home that has a smell of pee and piles of garbage, the octogenarian Mag Folan (Noni Hazlehurst) spends her days waiting for the news to come on the television and manipulating her 40 year old daughter Maureen (Yael Stone) into tending to her needs. Maureen is one of three sisters but given she has been unlucky in love and therefore only one still single, she is lumped with the task of caring for the cantankerous mother while her sisters promise to visit but never do. When neighbour's son Ray Dooley (Shiv Palekar) extends an invitation on behalf of his brother Pato (Hamish Michael), Mag's fear that Maureen could experience a world outside the cottage and leave her rises and the deception and manipulation becomes evident.
Designer Renée Mulder has captured the desolate and daunting Irish setting perfectly with a small stone cottage sitting atop a hilltop of moss-covered rocks and mud in an eternal gloom of thick fog. Positioned on a revolve which is used to help depict the passage of time, the interior of the cottage is equally as detailed as the exterior. The communal area of the home includes the kitchen of open shelves and benchtops of food packets and various detritus. A cluttered kitchen table indicates that any form of civility of sitting down to a meal has gone while Mag spends most of her time in the worn out rocking chair next to the cast iron heating stove. Mulder's costumes are equally as telling as the single Maureen longs for someone to love, wearing a oversized sweater with the famous pottery wheel image from GHOST, while Mag sports an assortment of dirty worn op-shop finds to ward off the cold of the Connemara hills. Neighbour Ray's younger age and wannabe tough streetwise image is conveyed headphones coming out of a bumbag while older brother Pato's quiet sensibilities but better financial prospects as a London builders' laborer have him in clean jeans and sensible knitted sweater. Paul Jackson's lighting design has sunlight through the kitchen window and dimmed twilight and early morning light during scene changes and more muted illumination for evening scenes. Steve Francis' sound design and compositions link the work back to Ireland with traditional instruments playing takes on ballads and reels.
Paige Rattray has gathered a superb cast to create a work that has the audience leaning forward in interest, roaring with laughter, gasping in disbelief and audibly responding when the can foresee what will happen. Noni Hazlehurst ensures that sufficient sympathy is established for the spiteful old woman before Mag really lets loose on Maureen with a torrent of insults. Similarly, Yael Stone creates an image that strikes a chord with the audience who have cared for an older relative so that the audience is also on the younger woman's side as they collectively hope she can find happiness. Shiv Palekar captures the idleness of a disengaged youth living in a society with little to no prospects and no care for anyone else but his own needs and wants. He adds the first inklings of real darkness to the story with a chilling expression of Ray's obsession with violence. The one pure and good character is Pato Dooley and Hamish Michael ensures that he is everything a sweet natured but socially inept guy that would be the perfect balance to Maureen's insecurities should be.A dark and twisted story of mental illness, maddening families, and the horrifying lengths people will go to get their way, THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE will have you laughing out loud and gasping in shock and back again.
Photos: Brett Boardman