The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Young Vic, London
On the peeling, whitewashed wall of the dank Connemara cottage, there's a poster that bears the legend: "May you be half an hour in heaven afore the devil knows you're dead". It's a bit too late for that forlorn hope now, though. The two female characters in The Beauty Queen of Leenane dwell in a hell on earth of their own devising – a perverted symbiosis of mutual torture and resentment. Maureen Folan, the archetypally plain and lonely 40-year-old spinster, is bullied and bossed around by her selfish old mother who plots to thwart her daughter when a last chance of love shows up in the shape of personable local chap on a brief trip home from his navvying job in England.
This was the play that launched the prodigious career of Martin McDonagh back in 1996 and it remains an almost diabolically effective piece of theatre, as is proved anew by Joe Hill-Gibbins's pitch-perfect, blackly hilarious revival, now making a return to the Young Vic after a sell-out run last summer. In his precociously knowing, Synge-meets-Tarantino manner, McDonagh takes the mick, as it were, of taking the mick of the "Oirish" by playing around with cultural stereotypes and offering an archly postmodern pastiche of Irish stage traditions, which he implies were always more than half pastiche in the first place.
You approach this production by walking past huge streaming sheets of polythene, an effect that heightens the sense of a benighted backwater where the only alternative to viewing Australian soaps on the telly is watching a sodden landscape. Like Clov in Endgame, the magnificent Rosaleen Linehan tyrannises from a centrally placed armchair as the mother. She's an obdurate lump of monstrous manipulation and self-pity, glorying in her urine infection as though it were an accomplishment worthy of a medal and nippy enough when alone and up to no good.
With her Pre-Raphaelite locks, Derbhle Crotty is far too fetching to convince as a desperate spinster but the subtly mounting way she hints at the daughter's mental disturbance is subtle and moving. Frank Laverty exudes a lovely shy warmth and decency as her potential saviour and Johnny Ward brings an amusingly manic energy to the head-banging frustrations of his terminally bored younger brother.
To 3 September (020 7922 2922)
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