The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh. The Lyric, Hammersmith to 6 November 2021. 3 ***. William Russell

Martin McDonagh’s 1996 play stands the test of time in this fine revival which started life at Chichester and now moves in to the Lyric. It is a study in loneliness, in the twisted relationship beween domineering mother and spinster daughter who live together in Leenane in Conemara waging a perpetual war. The mother needs daughter to look after her, daughter desperately wants to escape from this rural world with its narrow horizons. Think Steptoe and Son. It is an Ireland nothing like the one that exists today and eventually one of the warring pair will go too far.
If there is a problem it is the Irish accents. The set, possibly designed to suit Chichester where this production originated, on the Lyric stage it seems cavernous and the cottage room is vast and there is no ceiling. Instead it rises to great windows through which the trees outside can be seen. The effect is to remove what a ceiling would have provided – a sounding board for the actors who at times are almost inaudible with the accents not helping. It was crystal clear on press night as the laughter – and it is very funny – came from specific parts of the auditorium rather than a collective audience response that some people were not getting it. A world which should be claustrophobic is anything but.
However the sad last ditch romance between Maureen, the so called beauty queen, and Pato, her gentleman caller, is touchingly played by Orla Fitzgerald and Adam Best while as Mag, the mother determined to stop it in its tracks and will stoop to anything to do that, Ingrid Craigie is gloriously small minded and vindictive. But Maureen is not her mother’s daughter for nothing. Mag may demand attention, Maureen in return bullies her, serving her badly made porridge and Complan, which is her diet and threatening her with a poker which, although never actually used, becomes an ominous presence throughout the play. When revenge is finally taken it is brutal and shocking. Maureen has collected Pato when out one evening, brought him home and he stays the night, much to Mag’s alarm and fury the next day. Pato has to go to England to work and mother and daughter carry on as before, but he writes to Maureen making clear he wants a relationship, that he is going to America and she could come, but the letter never gets delivered to her. He has sent it to his bumbling brother Ray, Kwaku Fortune speaking what sounds like impeccable Irish, to deliver and intercepted by Mag. In the end Maureen is left sitting in her mother’s old armchair by the kitchen range gazing into a desolate future. For all the reservations about the set and the sound this is a first rate revival of a shocking and brilliant play paced perfectly by director Rachel O’Riordan but that missing fourth star is due to the problems making out what was being said not the quality of playing or direction.
Pato: Adam Best.
Mag: Ingrid Craigie.
Maureen: Orla Fitzgerald.
Ray: Kwaku Fortune.

Director: Rachel O’Riordan.
Design; Good Teeth Theatre.
Lighting Design: Kevin Treaty.
Composition and Sound Design: Anna Clock.
Fight Direction: Kev McCurdy
Voice and Dialect Coach: Edda Sharpe.
Costume Supervisor: Ellen Gifford.
Production photographs: Helen Maybanks.

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