“My world doesn’t revolve around your taste in biscuits”
In 2010 I set myself the challenge/allowed myself the luxury of seeing every single show that I wanted, and I can pretty much say that I achieved that. But as the end of year lists started to appear, one play kept popping up that made me think I perhaps ought to have overridden my instincts not to bother with it and taken it in: that play was The Beauty Queen of Leenane and the Young Vic have kindly decided to bring it back, with a three-quarters different cast to be sure, so that I could be dragged along to see it and find out if it was worth it after all. We attended the final preview that took place on 25th July.
Martin McDonagh’s 1996 play is set in deepest rural Ireland, in the mountain of Connemara where the scheming Mag Folan lives with the embittered Maureen, her 40 year old daughter and skivvy. Locked in a twisted familial bond, every single act whether making a cup of Complan or switching on the radio becomes a fierce battle of wills, but when a glimmer of escape for Maureen appears via the arrival of the handsome Pato on the scene, behaviour on all sides in pushed to the shocking extreme.
It’s a mark of how much I enjoyed the show that the audience didn’t bother me. Quite unlike a normal Monday night crowd at the Young Vic, they were extremely vocal throughout, calling out to the stage, laughing raucously from the start, even screaming at the darker moments. There’s no doubting that this is sharply funny but I always find something slightly suspicious about an over-laughing audience, the determination to have a good time no matter what. Perhaps it just reflected my more melancholy mood that evening but I felt the darkness more than the comedy from the outset, the barely-concealed malevolence that characterises both sides of the relationship between Maureen and her mother and the aching sadness that underscores much of the writing, the sisters estranged from one another, other families stretched across oceans because of constant emigration. McDonagh’s world is richly drawn and full of the smallest of details, all of which are fully incorporated into the plot one way or another, to reappear at unexpected moments.
As the sole returnee, Rosaleen Linehan is frankly terrifying as Mag, a body not quite as frail as she makes it out to be but eyes as sharp as daggers as she silently plots from her rocking chair to keep things exactly as they are, her daughter firmly under her thumb and herself out of a home: a shocking yet superb performance. As Maureen, Derbhle Crotty is a cauldron of seething emotion, frustrated at her life never lived and her inability to escape the tendrils that tie her to her mother. Frank Laverty brings a genuine affability to her escape route, his letter-writing is a lovely scene touchingly played and Johnny Ward does well as his younger brother, a restless messenger who unwittingly serves as the play’s catalyst. My only real problem was with the heavy-handed foreshadowing which I felt unnecessary and rather unsophisticated, given the sharpness of the writing elsewhere. In Ultz’s niftily-designed crumbling cottage, you will find yourself laughing but make no mistake, this is one of the darkest of dark comedies.