Thursday 22 March 2018

Review: Marie Mullen steals the show alongside Aisling O'Sullivan in Beauty Queen of Leenane

Town Hall Theatre, Galway

The Beauty Queen of Leenane is showing in the Town Hall, Galway
The Beauty Queen of Leenane is showing in the Town Hall, Galway
Award winning Sligo Actress Marie Mullen.

Sophie Gorman

It has been 20 years since Martin McDonagh’s first play seared itself indelibly into the Irish theatre landscape.

To mark its anniversary, it has been brought back to where it all began and the same hand is at the tiller, director Garry Hynes.

There is one critical change; Marie Mullen has swapped roles, and the Beauty Queen is now her enduringly embittered mother Mag.

There is a strong sense of that original production here, particularly in Francis O’Connor’s design. There is something almost brutal to this Irish country cottage, a home without hearth or heart. The cement walls are stained with smoke and who knows what else. It could be 100 years ago or yesterday. Rain literally pours down outside and metaphorically inside.

An old woman, Mag, is in her rocking chair when her 40-year-old daughter Maureen arrives with the shopping. Before she has taken off her coat, her mother is demanding. She wants her Complan, her porridge, the radio, she wants... But Maureen can give as good as she gets. There are two of them in this battle and both are cantankerous adversaries.

Stealing the show, Marie Mullen easily steps into Mag’s trainers, she has eyes that are deceptively sweet, paired with ice-cold malevolence. Aisling O’Sullivan presents a different Maureen, hers is more of a petulant teenager. It is hard to believe that all of her hope is past.

This is a play of almost farce-like aphotic humour and echoing sadness. But this production does not fully mine the seam of sorrow, it glances over the moments of impossible horror, though the comedic timing is brilliant. There are still moments that will fasten to your memory and there is much for new audiences to savour. But this is haunted by the ghosts of the past and they have cast such unforgettable and impossible shadows.

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