I haven't seen a Martin McDonagh play for nearly a decade, not since The Lieutenant of Inishmore which I still remember enjoying a lot (and I remember it involving a lot of severed body parts.) In one of those funny coincidences, my DVD rental company sent me McDonagh's film In Bruges this morning, the same day I was off to see a revival of his first play - maybe I'll watch the film tomorrow and make it a double bill. The Beauty Queen of Leenane looks like a big summer hit for the Young Vic: Four- and five-star reviews across the board meant a sold-out performance even on a Tuesday, and a queue for returns. This did also mean an annoying ten-minute delay to the performance's start, as the ushers tried to find seats for everyone in the unreserved auditorium. From the upcoming season, the Young Vic is changing to reserved seating, which I'm sure the West End Whingers will (a) like and (b) take credit for, so hopefully that'll help make getting everyone seated a bit easier. I hope it doesn't, however, mean we stop getting the venue's often very creative use of the space. We get another cleverly immersive set this time around from designer Ultz; after wandering round a few corridors you have to go through a door cut into a plastic sheet, avoiding water droplets as the sheet is being pelted with water, representing the rain that bookends the play. As you go in you can also see a large muddy garden leading up to the tiny house where the story takes place.
In a small, filthy house on top of a steep hill somewhere in County Galway, 40-year-old virgin Maureen (Susan Lynch) lives with her mother Mag (Rosaleen Linehan.) Their relationship is one of mutual hatred, Mag dependant on her daughter while making sure she keeps her at home looking after her forever. When Pato Dooley (David Ganly) returns from London, it looks like Maureen might actually be in with a chance of some romance and a way out of Leenane, but Mag, with the unwitting help of Pato's brother Ray (Terence Keeley) will do pretty much anything to make sure she goes nowhere. And what's that smell coming from the kitchen sink? The initial scene of the mother and daughter sniping at each other in what is clearly an oft-repeated scene feels almost Beckett-like in its poetically harsh exchanges but soon the play gets into a tone very much its own, as a very black comedy unfolds. All the actors in Joe Hill-Gibbins' production are spot on, but Linehan steals the show with the slightest facial expression, and can make the words "urinary infection" funnier than you'd think possible (although Lynch's "sentimental value" comes a close second.) I won't give away any more of what happens but would add my own recommendation that this is well worth seeing, so long as you're prepared for things to get pretty dark.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh is booking until the 21st of August at the Young Vic.