Sit back and enjoy the unfolding horror

Reporter: by Paul Genty
Date published: 28 October 2009

THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE, OIdham Coliseum, by Paul Genty
First, the news: ironic really, for Mag, central character in Martin McDonagh’s black “melodramedy”, as one reviewer called it, attempts throughout the evening to view the TV news and never manages to do so.

The news is that after weeks of touring, London Classic Theatre had to recast the important role of Pato at the weekend, giving actor Steve Dineen a mere 48 hours to get the hang of McDonagh’s brilliant almost-Irish banter.

Luckily he manages to be pretty well word-perfect and also catches much of the rural Irish accent already mostly mastered by the other three characters. He spoils this a little by speaking far too quietly — Pato is a shy, sensitive Irishman. But perhaps not this sensitive...

Leenane was McDonagh’s blistering — literally, at one point — first hit, written in the mid Nineties, and it set the stall for his later rural Irish deep-black comedies.

A study of the terror wreaked with Complan and porridge, it documents the horrible relationship between selfish, elderly Mag (Carole Dance) and her unbalanced 40-year-old daughter Maureen (Alice Selwyn) in their tumbledown Connemara shack, Maureen’s last chance of love with neighbour Pato and interludes with light relief Ray (Alan DeVally), Pato’s younger brother and local “bad boy”. McDonagh writes about rural Ireland and has Irish parents, but has only ever been there for holidays, which is why his dialogue is a mix of Irish phrases and speech patterns, slow-minded conversation and the most enjoyably mad exchanges this side of an Irish pub at closing time.

But this is a play with a dark heart: Mag’s selfishness reaches new heights when she cheats her daughter into staying with her, rather than accepting Pato’s proposal — Maureen’s last chance of happiness. The knowledge sends the emotionally frail daughter over the edge and what was black comedy turns quickly to cruelty and violence.

Michael Cabot’s direction is a little short on detail, but Dance and Selwyn throw themselves, and a poker, and a pan, into the nastiness with obvious relish. DeVally’s Ray is a silly delight and once Dineen is fully up to speed, sit back back and enjoy the horror.

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