Minerva's Beauty Queen is shocking, sad and brilliant

REVIEW: The Beauty Queen Of Leenane, Minerva Theatre, Chichester, until October 2.

Adam Best and Orla Fitzgerald in The Beauty Queen of Leenane - Photo Helen Maybanks
Adam Best and Orla Fitzgerald in The Beauty Queen of Leenane - Photo Helen Maybanks

There’s a moment of interference so cruel that you want to run onto the stage to stop it.

Soon afterwards, there is a moment of brutality which will make you gasp.

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Rachel O’Riordan’s exceptional production of Martin McDonagh’s exceptional play feels like precisely what the Minerva is for. The piece is shocking and yet consistently funny, incredibly poignant and in the end heart-breaking – theatre as engrossing and as involving as it comes.

Ingrid Craigie plays Mag and Orla Fitzgerald is Maureen Folan, mother and daughter locked in a ghastly battle of wills, petty wins and endless bickering. Mag thinks nothing of burning a party invitation she doesn’t want her daughter to know about; Maureen buys precisely the biscuits she knows her mother hates.

And so presumably things would have continued – except a chance of happiness and indeed escape suddenly comes Maureen’s way. In an instant, the stakes are higher, but so too do we realise just how damaged these women are.

It would be easy to make Mag simply a foul old boot, but Craigie brilliantly hints at the human frailties, the fear of being left alone which drives her, and that’s why she tries to torpedo her daughter.

Meanwhile Fitzgerald gives a remarkable performance as daughter Maureen, so witty in her put-downs, but above all a woman filled with longing and loathing.

Adam Best gives a lovely performance as Pato, a decent guy oblivious to what’s really going on; Kwaku Fortune is excellent too as his younger brother, another unwitting player in the grisly mother-daughter battle.

O’Riordan in this CFT/ Lyric Theatre Hammersmith co-production orchestrates it all to perfection. The detailed set also plays its part in making it all so completely convincing.

With the rather bizarre collapse of The Flock in August, this year’s Minerva season has seemed a very long time coming. Now it’s here, it’s most definitely been worth the wait.