Reviewed by Kym Clayton
Written by Martin McDonagh, The Beauty Queen of Leenane is set in rural Ireland and is a savagely bleak but cringeingly comical look at the wasted lives of elderly Mag Folan and Maureen, her 40-year-old live-at-home psychologically-disturbed spinster daughter. Mag monotonously spends most of her time sitting in her rocking chair in front of ‘the box’ watching Australian soapies waiting for the news, and the rest of her time is spent making Maureen’s life a greater misery than it already is. Maureen is Mag’s carer, a role that has fallen to her rather than having been willingly accepted, but there is little real caring—life’s necessities are begrudgingly provided, that’s all.
Helen Geoffreys and Jude Brennan are both outstanding as Maureen and Mag. Brennan seethes contempt for her daughter through pursed lips and slitted eyes that spit criticism and stare daggers at every opportunity. She is hateful. Geoffreys plays Maureen with studied skill—the set of her head, the flashing eyes, the clenched hands, the contemptuous face, the pent up frustration and nervous physicality all combine to create the impression of a damaged human being that is ready to unleash and explode.
Mark Drury plays Ray Dooley, a next door neighbour, who is also missing out on life in the rural and forgotten backwater they are all forced to call home. He’d rather be experiencing alternative cultures in Manchester, but he too is trapped and life becomes an exaggerated response to the mundane, such as delivering ‘courting’ notes to Maureen from his older navvy brother Pato who is home on leave, as if they were state secrets. Peter Davies is also excellent as Pato. There was touching sensuality in the love making scenes with Maureen, and beautifully timed and gestured comedy when he embarrassingly stumbles upon Mag in the kitchen the next morning. Drury is superbly enigmatic as Ray—there is a precise blend of menacing border-line anti-social behaviour and youthful innocence. He, too, is damaged.
The performances were wonderful, but the production was also stylish. The single set was cleverly designed and built on a small platform to delineate a cramped kitchen and dining area. No walls were used to box the set in—that was achieved by black drapes and evocative and precise lighting by Laraine Wheeler. The set reeked of decay and corruption and it ‘fitted’ the play like a glove. Whoever designed it—there is no credit in the program—is to be applauded. The final harrowing scene would have been greatly enhanced if caution was thrown to the winds and it was made graphically obvious how Mag met her end.
This is a wonderful production. Director Kerrin White and The Rep have come up trumps with this one.