New Era Players: The Beauty Queen of Leenane, at the New Era Theatre, Wash Common, from
Thursday, March 11th to Saturday, March 20th
Martin McDonagh's award-winning play is a strange mixture of gross
comedy, melodrama and tragedy. It's another tale of Irish poverty, set in
Connemara in the late 1980s, in a village where the eligible men have left
to better themselves in England or America, leaving forty-something Maureen
looking after her manipulative mother Mag. When old acquaintance Pato
returns briefly from London, Maureen seizes the opportunity to (almost) lose
her virginity and spite her mother. After a mix up over a letter,
reminiscent of Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Maureen doesn't follow Pato to
Boston and ends up losing her grip on reality and killing her mother.
It's a disturbing play, and a demanding one for the audience as well at the
actors. Janet Bennett played Mag; slobbish, scheming and selfish - all these
traits came across in her wonderfully expressive face. As Maureen, Kathleen
Sharrett started off bitter and resentful towards her mother, then seductive
with Pato. As we learn of her previous mental problems, the darker side of
her character comes out, with fantasy overlapping with reality until at the
end she starts to break down as she takes on her mother's role. This was a
convincing performance in a complex part, and the two actresses showed just
how badly such a relationship can deteriorate.
Nigel Winter was excellent as Pato, the most sympathetic of the characters.
His soliloquy when he composes the letter to Maureen was sensitive and
moving. As Ray, James Winter had the smallest part but quite a difficult
one, as I felt the author had not made the characterisation as clear as the
other parts. The interplay between all four actors was very good.
The set perfectly reflected the shabby poverty of the setting, from the
religious pictures to the noisome Belfast sink.
Valerie Maskell directed with an expert touch, bringing out the best in her
actors and avoiding going over the top with the humour or the melodrama.
I've seen many high-quality productions at New Era; this one went the extra
mile, and with the very high standard of acting and directing deserves to be
called a great production.