The wind and rain of an autumn evening in Cumbria sets the scene perfectly for Theatre by the Lake’s new production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane – a tragedy that unfolds in a small rural community in Ireland, writes Karen Morley-Chesworth.
The setting of an isolated cottage overshadowed by the mountain range behind captures the claustrophobic existence of Maureen played by Elizabeth Appleby, a 40-something virgin, reluctantly the ‘carer’ for her controlling mother, Mag played by Susan Twist.
Twist is a brilliant character actor who brings this woman to life. No one in the audience would want to be trapped in that room with Mag – but also no one in the audience could fail to laugh and cry with and for her as the relationship between mother and daughter reaches breaking point.
Appley pulls at your heartstrings as the woman trapped in a teenager’s existence – another excellent character actor. Twist and Appleby together are a strong partnership that gives a brilliant performance.
When news of an old school pal is returning from working in England to meet his American relatives, Maureen is given an opportunity to find a new life. Cillian Ó Gairbhí as Pato captures the essence of the Irish labour, working away to forge a new life, yet living a hollow life of isolation and hard work. The one night Maureen and Pato spend together in the house is filled with hope and fantasy.
Local lad Ray who pops in, bringing messages and invitations that bring together the couple also has the power, unbeknown to him, to keep them apart. Cameron Thomas as Ray gives a good performance in this crucial role.
The drama in this play had the audience not only on the edge of their seats but audibly gasping and muttering ‘oh no!’ I can see why this play by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh enjoyed success in the West End and both on and off Broadway. The excellent cast has some brilliant lines to work with, and it is obvious why the play was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award as Best Play for the London production and nominated for six Tony Awards (and winning four) on Broadway.
I felt like I was back in the 1990s, and sat watching Australian daytime soap operas, and watching what I think will be an inevitable outcome twist into an even darker outcome.
Despite this being a dark, psychological drama, this production presented by Theatre by the Lake also has the power to have you laughing and sniggering – recognising a dysfunctional family relationship can hold a mirror up to normal family life.
This is a brilliant play, brought to life by an excellent cast of four. Well worth leaving home and battling through the winter weather to see this Theatre by the Lake production.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane runs at Theatre by the Lake until 11th November 2022. For more information and to book your tickets visit www.theatrebythelake.com
Reviewer: Karen Morley-Chesworth
Reviewed: 26th October 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★