REVIEW: The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Lyric Hammersmith: brutal, funny and intense

The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Lyric Hammersmith is a brutal, funny and intense take on how far people will go to get the life that they want.

The production, originally written by Martin McDonagh and revived by the Lyric’s artistic director Rachel O’Riordan, is sharply written, well directed and excellently cast.

Comprising of just four characters, Maureen Folan (played by Orla Fitzgerald) lives with and cares for her elderly mother Mag (Ingrid Craigie) and sees a chance for a new life when Kwaku Fortune’s Ray invites her to a party attended by his cousin Pato (Adam Best).

What follows is a brilliantly unpredictable set of swerves, as Maureen’s desperation to leave the small Irish town of Leenane where the play is set collides with Mag’s own desperation for her to stay.

Whilst the plot’s dark turns and hard edges, especially in a breakneck second act, are where the play shines, its humour is also a key factor.

The play uses the dark comedy of its script to make poignant but also hilarious comments on immigration, imperialization and more.

BRILLIANTLY TWISTED: Orla Fitzgerald and Ingrid Craigie play the toxic mother-daughter pairing of Maureen and Mag.
Credit: Helen Maybanks

The Beauty Queen of Leenane is primarily about Maureen’s struggle for independence, but there are interesting wider questions around what that independence would even mean, and pondering why she even wants it in the first place.

The bulk of the heavy emotional lifting in the cast is done by Fitzgerald, but Best is an excellent foil for her and the chemistry between the two is very powerful and while Fortune’s role is one of mainly comic relief, and he plays it terrifically.

However the star of the play is Craigie, who can portray all of the complicated elements of Mag’s selfish intentions without needing to say a word, and when she does speak, it’s hard to know whether she can be trusted.

If the play does have a question mark over it, it’s the ending, which is perhaps more explicit than it needs to be, and may have been better leaving certain elements unsaid.

But overall, The Beauty Queen of Leenane is a darkly comic, brutally honest and very engaging production that leaves you wanting more.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane is playing at the Lyric Hammersmith until 6 November and you can buy tickets here.

Featured image credit: Helen Maybanks

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