The Beauty Queen of Leenane at the Gaiety Theatre

October 24, 2013


The Smiths thought us that barbarism begins at home, something anybody with an overbearing Irish mammy can attest to. Mag Folan (Rosaleen Linehan) is the overbearing Irish mammy from hell, a crude cousin of Medea who has allowed her child to live, only to kill her a little every day with her incessant inability to do anything for herself. Unable to contain her delight at her daughter’s rotten lot in life her tyranny is best seen by the pouring of her potty down the kitchen sink, all over the dishes that you can bet she won’t be doing. Is it any wonder that Maureen (Dearbhla Crotty) is a little doolally?

The relationship between mother and daughter is a never-ending viscous circle, where the women follow each other’s tart remarks and spiteful actions with vile and increasingly psychotic recriminations. When Mag intervenes in Maureen’s last chance for happiness, the wheels come off the cart and the contents of McDonagh’s warped imagination are spilled across the Gaiety stage.

The problem with Joe Hill-Gibbins’s revival, transferred over from the Old Vic, is in how unfeeling it is. We watch with detatched interest as these women scald and scathe one another, and ohh and ahh as the horrors unfold, but everything is rendered tame and stable as it is performed to satisfy an audiences blood lust, rather than as the credible actions of an unhinged woman. While Dearbhla Crotty has clearly worked on bringing McDonagh’s creation to life-and her softer moments are truly affecting-we never buy what she is selling as her flashes of madness are too contained and the destabelising effect of her mother’s words is never made apparent.

The writing has aged poorly with McDonagh’s habit of canabalising and regurgitating his own material making the play seem old before its time while the pot shots that seemed so daring in the mid-nineties are now tired and trite. He shows us the grotesque underbelly of the picture perfect Irish countryside but has little empathy or understanding for the people he writes about.

Rosaleen Linehan is completely believable as Mag, curled and caustic in her rocking chair, eyes beadily alert to any threat to her way of life, given to sudden bursts of spryness or utter hopelessness but never more alive than when taking her child apart. Frank Laverty, as Maureen’s love interest, brings lovely juvenilia to the part and, whilst perhaps coming a little to easily to him, his composition of the key letter at the start of Act 2 drew us straight back into the action. It was in the playing out of Pato and Maureen’s child-like attraction that this production worked best showing us-and Maureen-that there was more to life than her mother’s kitchen. But Johnny Ward’s Ray Dooley is too aware of his function as comic foil, roaring his lines in constant disbelief so that they loose all impact.

This Young Vic production does what is expected of it. It takes McDonagh’s characters and brings them to life. It works rigidly to the text, pulling the audiences strings to almost pantomime proportions. But there’s no surprise and no danger and aside from a cathartic kick those with a matricidal streak might get, there is little lasting reward.

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