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BWW Review: THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE, Lyric Hammersmith


Martin McDonagh's debut play returns to the London stage

BWW Review: THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE, Lyric Hammersmith

BWW Review: THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE, Lyric Hammersmith Martin McDonagh may be best known for his cinema successes Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and In Bruges, but he made his name as a playwright. It was in 1996 that the then twenty something writer's debut The Beauty Queen of Leenane premiered in Ireland before going on to enjoy Broadway and West End acclaim. Lyric Hammersmith Artistic Director Rachel O'Riordan now brings her revival from Chichester Festival Theatre to her home ground.

We're in the depressingly fatigued kitchen-come living area of a rural cottage in County Galway, Ireland. Maureen (Orla Fitzgerald) is the reluctant carer of her ageing mother Mag (Ingrid Craigie). Locked in a constant bitter battle of one-upmanship, the two relentlessly manipulate and provoke one another. Discontent and deflated with the monotony of her life, Maureen gains a glimpse of a potential escape to happiness after falling for local man Pato (Adam Best), although her mother has other ideas.

Good Teeth Theatre provide a carefully considered set, which fittingly exudes a sense of claustrophobia. Composer and Sound Designer Anna Clock infuses atmospheric bursts of music throughout. The result is a brooding and menacing production that brims with tension, just as its author intended. Audible gasps from the audience are prompted by some of the darker dialogue, but this is Martin McDonagh and any of the more macabre moments are successfully balanced with his trademark black comedy. It leaves us unsure how we feel about the characters as we flit between shocked disdain and empathy for their apparent plights.

Despite its age, themes of mental health and loneliness allow the play to feel timely and relevant for today's audience, especially in the wake of the pandemic. That said, there are still copious shocks to be felt throughout the two-hour run time - none of which have been dulled by the twenty-five years since the play was first seen. While the pace fluctuates somewhat during the first act, O'Riordan and her assured cast and creatives up the ante during the second half, setting up a very sobering climax.

Fitzgerald emanates a bubbling frustration which constantly fights its way to the surface, with the character threatening to boil over at any moment. It's an alluring turn. Craigie counters this with a quieter, more understated performance, which only emphasises her bitter resentment towards her daughter and permits the character a suitably unpredictable air. Adam Best captivates as Pato, delivering a memorable monologue during the opening of the second act. Kwaku Fortune, although afforded a less developed role, offers solid support as Pato's brother Ray.

O'Riordan could be accused of relying too heavily on the comical elements, subsequently muting some of the darker aspects of the play. But this is without question a sensitive and loyal production that is sure to linger long after you depart the theatre.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Lyric Hammersmith until 6 November

Photo credit: Helen Maybanks

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