Wednesday, 27 July 2011

The Beauty Queen of Leenane - The Young Vic, Monday 25th July 2011

Maureen, a middle‐aged spinster, lives with her elderly, manipulative mother Mag. in a remote cottage in Leenane, Connemara.  Maureen’s sisters have flown the nest, escaping the drab family home, but Maureen, who has a history of mental illness, remains at home, trapped in a dysfunctional relationship with her mother.

The arrival of an invitation sparks hopes of a last‐chance romance and offers Maureen the prospect of an escape to a new life. Things might just be looking up for her…but not if the interfering Mag has anything to do with it.

Maureen Folan – Derbhle Crotty
Mag Folan, her mother – Rosaleen Linehan
Pato Dooley – Frank Laverty
Ray Dooley, his brother – Johnny Ward

Creative Team:
Written by – Martin McDonagh
Direction – Joe Hill-Gibbin
Designer – Ultz
Lighting – Charles Balfour
Sound – Paul Arditti

Well, I haven’t had such a good time at the theatre in a long while. I’m going to try and not spoil the plot for you, because you really, really must phone the Young Vic and offer to sell your grandparents in exchange for a ticket. All I am going to say is that The Beauty Queen of Leenane is one of those plays which you think is going to be extremely straightforward, but which leads you very firmly by the hand up the garden path and then spins you round and pushes you into a ditch. You stagger out, continue up the path and arrive at the door, only to have the mat pulled out from underneath your feet. And then, having apologised profusely, welcomed you into the house and offered you a towel, the play then hits you round the back of the head with a saucepan. And runs away laughing. What appears to be a straightforward little play, in which the happiness of the lead character is all you hope for, comes all over Agatha Christie and starts throwing unexpected plot developments in your way. You know what you want to happen, you think you know what will happen – and then you sit there peering through your fingers muttering “Don’t answer the door – I know who’s going to come through it”. And they don’t, dammit. This is about 20 minutes after you have been lulled into a false sense of security by having something happen on stage that is utterly predictable the minute you see it coming. I got so wrapped up in the action it was as much as I could do not to start shouting out advice to the characters. Its soooooo clever – and if the seats at the Young Vic weren’t so damned uncomfortable anyway you’d be spending most of the evening perched on the edge. It’s a rare thing that gets members of the audience talking to the people next to them in the interval about what they think is going to happen and how, or discussing the plot twists on the way out.

The set is simple, yet extremely effective, and you’re given the usual Young Vic “total experience” by walking into the auditorium to the sight and sound of rain falling lightly yet incessantly down sheets of taut plastic stretched from floor to ceiling (which also gives the place an authentic Irish Croft kind of chill). For some time, I even thought the theatre were piping in the smell of slightly stale beer as well, until I realised that the woman sitting next to me was holding a glass of it. We had a good laugh about this in the interval, and we both agreed it should be suggested to the theatre management for next time (we could have had the whiff of fried noodles for The Good Soul of Schezuan, manky straw for [The] Government Inspector and perhaps warm cattle dung for Annie Get Your Gun).

It would be invidious to give out “acting honours” for the three main leads as they were all so perfectly cast. Derbhle Crotty (which sounds like something you need to rub ointment into before going to bed) tends to walk away with them, because the audience are all rooting for her so much. Rosaleen Linehan makes a formidable Mag, alternately vicious and sympathetic (watch her eyes closely during her first scene after the interval – that’s classy acting) and Frank Laverty gives such a perfectly judged performance that his Act 2 opening monologue deserved – and indeed got – a round of applause. In fact, by the time Act 1 was half over, people were applauding each individual scene, which I don’t think I’ve ever experienced before. And its well deserved, believe me. And there was at least one Silence, if not two*. Johnny Ward is fine as Ray, but I think needs to settle down into the role slightly because there was just a touch too much of Dougal from Father Ted for my liking. It doesn’t help that he is never given a chance to be serious – all his scenes are slightly off the wall verbal sparring and one-liners.

Anyway, it was a grand night and one I enjoyed immensely. Go get your tickets now because a) its going to be sold out and b) you’ll come out afterwards talking to people you don’t know about what you’ve just seen.  And you'll never look at your chip pan in quite the same way again. 

* For those of you relatively new to this blog, a “Silence” isn’t when the audience is just quiet. Its when the audience is so wrapped up in what is happening on stage that there is a complete absence of sound. Not a cough, not a fidget, nothing. I’ve variously described it in the past as the sound of the entire audience collectively holding its breath, or the sound that black velvet would make if it could.

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