Picture it. Two very troubled people, interdependent and inseparable due to circumstance; one is very old, extremely crotchety and makes the other one’s life hell.
But how much is the careworn younger one culpable for the older person’s distress? What is behind this ghastly symbiotic relationship of psychological cruelty. Why can’t they live together? Why daren’t they exist apart.
Goodness! Who’d have thought there’d be so many parallels between the characters in Martin McDonagh‘s* exceedingly black comedy The Beauty Queen of Leenane (newly revived at the Young Vic) and the Whingers’ own peculiar arrangement. The only immediate difference being that the Whingers, thankfully, were never umbilically connected.
Oh, and that Phil doesn’t eat Complan – but that can only be a matter of time.
Phil – who had seen and loved the original London production of TBQOL (yes, yet another example of the theatrical merry-go-round we’ve been banging on about of late) – dragged Andrew to the Young Vic to experience the last production there where they would experience the horrors of its unreserved seating policy.**
Perhaps it was spotting this analogous relationship that prevented Andrew from immediately warming to mother and daughter, Mag and Maureen, living in rural Leenane in Ireland. Maureen is forty-something, has little to no experience with men (no comment) and any chances of finding love will be hampered by her extremely manipulative mother.
Mag demands Complan, stirred properly to avoid lumps, is fed Kimberley biscuits which she despises (no, we hadn’t heard of them either but apparently they’re “the legendary biscuits of the Emerald Isle”. Legendary? Don’t they have Jammie Dodgers in Ireland?).
There’s a terrible smell emanating from the sink in their squalid kitchen (with a nice eye for realism and detail from designer Ultz, giving him a full pardon for Annie Get Your Gun) as Mag has a urinary infection and empties her chamber pot into it. Pato Dooley (David Ganly) turns up offering Maureen a last chance of romance and escape.
Phil, fortunately, could remember little of the original production apart from Anna Manahan‘s extraordinary performance as Mag, so the extreme events that follow came as a complete surprise to him. Let’s just say they turn even darker. To reveal more would be unfair.
But what we can say is it’s very, very funny, contains McDonagh’s usual shock tactics and is superbly performed by the cast of four. The dialogue is effective in its apparent simplicity and for once the whole Oirishness of it adds rather than detracts. Oh, and if you get slightly damp as you enter the auditorium you can be thankful it’s nothing to do with the contents of Mag’s chamber pot.
Rosaleen Linehan‘s Mag is enjoyably curmudgeonly and she does some rather brilliant work with her eyes, so get in line early for the scrabble for seats and sit as close to the corner as you can. The relationship between her and Susan Lynch‘s also excellent Maureen is kept nicely ambiguous. Just how much is Maureen a victim of this terrible harridan?
Terence Keeley’s Ray makes a terrific impression as Pato’s agitated younger brother while Ganly is extremely well-suited to be Maureen’s would-be suitor. He’s especially effective in his Act 2 opening monologue. Joe Hill-Gibbins‘s production kept us gripped: the audience’s gasps at some of the horrors and the wild applause at the end spoke volumes.
The Whingers emerged suitably entertained. Andrew went off in search of Complan and Kimberley biscuits. Phil headed home to throw some bleach down his kitchen sink.
* McDonagh was only 25 when he wrote The Beauty Queen of Leenane. Now that’s shocking.
** Despite their official denials three months ago, the Young Vic has apparently caved in to common sense. This is the last production in the Young Vic’s main house where you will experience the horrors of unreserved seating. But just to test it the Whingers have been attempting to book for upcoming shows just to see how it works. It still tells you that you are booking unreserved seats but states:
“We’re still finalising the seating plans for The Glass Menagerie and Vernon God Little – so if you’ve booked for either of these shows, we’ll put you into the best available seats and confirm this by e-mail very soon. Once we’ve done this, you can then choose to change them if you’d like.”
Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill. Rest assured we shall be experimenting with this and reporting back.