Review by Magda Ibrahim
Cementing its reputation as one of the capital’s leading venues for intensely emotive theatre, the Lyric Hammersmith theatre is showcasing a major revival of award-winning play The Beauty Queen of Leenane.
Tackling racism, mental illness and exploring how fear and resentment can lead to disastrous consequences, the play runs until 6 November.
Set in the Connemara mountain village of Leenane, in County Galway, the darkly comic production explores hard-hitting themes of loneliness, mental illness, family manipulation and violence.
Written by Martin McDonagh, the writer and director behind films including Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and In Bruges, the new production at the Lyric is packed with tension and drama.
The story follows the lives of lonely spinster Maureen Folan and her manipulative and ageing mother Mag as they battle to hold ground in their destructive relationship.
When brothers Ray and Pato Dooley enter the women’s lives, their arrival sparks a chain of events leading to the play’s devastating conclusion.
Directed by the Lyric’s artistic director Rachel O’Riordan, the powerful plot line is bolstered by mesmerising design and staging from Good Teeth Theatre, alongside lighting designer Kevin Treacy and composer and sound designer Anna Clock.
Resonating with the frustrations and lack of control thrown up by the Covid pandemic, the play taps into the loneliness and self-doubt of being locked away from external stimulation.
Orla Fitzgerald plays 40-year-old Maureen, trapped by the demands of caring for her mother while dreaming of independence and escape from the drudgery of home life.
The relationship between Maureen and her mother Mag, played by Ingrid Craigie, is truly uncomfortable to watch.
Deeply dysfunctional, the pair seem to be in a constant fight for dominance as each draws on manipulation and emotional pain to try to damage the other.
Line of Duty and Normal People actor Kwaku Fortune provides a lift from the gloom as Ray Dooley, who appears in the women’s lives to invite them both to a farewell party for his visiting uncle, who is due to leave for the US.
Light-hearted and with one foot still in the unfettered freedoms of youth, Ray’s observances and stories are a welcome break from the brutal reality of the women’s lives.
When Ray’s older brother Pato, played by Adam Best, comes home from the party with Maureen, dubbing her The Beauty Queen of Leenane, the pair’s dalliance causes a tremendous fallout.
Maureen is desperate to show her mother she can have a life beyond tea-making and porridge-stirring, but deceit stands in the way of her aspirations.
The strong and violent storyline of The Beauty Queen of Leenane established Martin McDonagh as one of Ireland’s most exciting new writers when it debuted in 1996 in Galway.
After transferring to the West End and receiving an Olivier Award nomination for Play of the Year, the play later won four Tony Awards on Broadway.
In this latest co-production between the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre and Chichester Festival Theatre, the acting team – cast by Sam Stevenson – expertly develops the dark mood of the play, before it culminates with a vividly tragic conclusion.
Tickets from £10 and include evening, matinee, open captioned and audio described performances. For more details, visit the Lyric Hammersmith website.
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