Theatre review: The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch
- Credit: Archant
A pokey Irish country cottage on a hillside, with grubby wallpaper, tattered furniture and a wonky cross hanging on the wall is the humble dwelling of Leenane’s most malevolent pair.
The pitch-black comedy thriller by Martin McDonagh, director of In Bruges and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, is showing at Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch until November 16, wonderfully co-produced by the Queen's Theatre and the Hull Truck Theatre group.
A mother in her 70s, Mag Folan (Maggie McCarthy) lives with her unmarried daughter, Maureen (Siobhan O'Kelly) in her 40s, who supposedly looks after her frail mother. Their only visitors are two brothers, Ray and Pato Dooley (Laurence Pybus and Nicholas Boulton), and with the latter, Maureen has a budding romance, the only glimmer of hope in their desperate lives.
Even in a small community defined by disappointment and hopelessness, the pair are shockingly malicious to each other.
In the opening scene, Mag merrily tips the contents of her bedpan into the kitchen sink despite Maureen's disgust, and Maureen treats her mother with pointless cruelty, such as refusing to take the lumps out of her Complan.
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After Maureen is invited to a party by Pato, Mag tries to botch the opportunity by destroying the note and pays dearly by getting her hand burnt on the stove by Maureen.
As the story unfolds and the battle for witch-like supremacy worsens, Maureen becomes harrowingly violent and more unstable, bringing into question who is the most heinous and heartless.
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The exquisitely-designed set by Sara Perks shows the cottage as a cut out, in front of a vast expanse of lit-up sky suggesting a life beyond the tiny town of Leenane. Lighting designer Jess Addinall explained: "I'm trying to create a clear contrast between the outside world created within this desolate cottage in rural Ireland."
The thick walls of the cottage crumble down like a ruin, in order for the audience to see into it and the deconstruction seems evocative of their mother and daughter's broken relationship. The costumes are unmistakably 90s, think neon tracksuits and baggy jeans, with props so detailed as to include a moth-eaten table cloth and an electric fire.
A tragic story, so dark it's funny, this production is best for an older audience, but it is unique and wholly mesmerising.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane is running from October 31 to November 16 at Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch.