Review: The Beauty Queen of Leenane (Lyric Hammersmith)

Martin McDonagh’s black comedy piece, co-produced by Chichester Festival Theatre and the Lyric Hammersmith, proves to be a deeper exploration of family conflict and secrets than his The Lieutenant of Inishmore.

Maureen, forty and stuck in a routine of caring for her peevish and needy mother, Mag, lives in a house on a hill in Leenane where no one phones or visits. Their relationship is resentful and entitled, the spinster daughter and the hypochondriac widow.

When local Lothario Pato returns from his job in England, a flame flickers between them which starts a disturbing run of events and a complete shift in what McDonagh wants us to see. All is not what it seems in this room.

Ingrid Criagie in The Beauty Queen of Leenane

Across a two-hour running time, the four-strong cast work hard to make their characters real and complex. Orla Fitzgerald’s Maureen is brittle, harsh, yet deeply vulnerable; while Ingrid Craigie’s Mag transmits the bitter fear and disappointment of someone whose life has shrunk to repetitive routine.

Elsewhere, Adam Best’s Pato makes the most of two scenes which open up an insight into a man who is lonely for companionship. Kwaku Fortune as his brother Ray mines the comedy in his role yet still holds on to ancient wrongs.

Each character carries collateral damage, yet all are able to function on the surface. Rachel O‚ÄôRiordan’s production sets a building tension against moments of pure amusement (the ‘considerate cat’ who climbs the sink to pee).

Orla Fitzgerald and Adam Best in The Beauty Queen of Leenane

We feel invested in The Beauty Queen of Leenane and its plot progression, witness to blatant cruelty and romantic daydreaming. Good Teeth Theatre’s set design creates a cluttered room dominated by a range and kitchenette, with a huge tree dominating the upper half of the stage. Things burn here both physically and emotionally.

This is a taut production with plenty to think about. Black, bleak, and ultimately deeply moving.

You can see The Beauty Queen of Leenane at the Lyric Hammersmith until 6 November: buy your tickets here.

Image credit: Helen Maybanks