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  • Fiona Prior

The Beauty Queen of Leenane

By Martin McDonagh

Director: Paige Rattray

The Beauty Queen of Leenane’ was so distressing I feel strange recommending it, as exceedingly good as was the acting and production. The emotional residue is still darkening my psyche.

A toxic relationship between Maureen (Yale Stone), a 40 year-old daughter and Mag (Noni Hazelhurst), her 70-year old mother is played out in an isolated cottage in rural Ireland, circa the economically harsh 1990s. Resentment oozes from every pore of this play; towards the English, towards each character, towards those whose lives are easier, towards those with physical and mental good health. Harsh winds and bitter cold deaden any enthusiasm that is left intact after unemployment and cruel relationships.

Sydney Theatre Company's artistic director Kip Williams believes Martin McDonagh uses this twisted family unit ‘as a figurative stand-in for Irish society as a whole … explor(ing) the cultural impact of centuries of oppression, poverty and dispossession ...

For me, the play is just as much about the unchecked behaviour of dysfunctional societies, where the normal interpersonal visibility between individuals and households no longer exists, and/or covert abuses take place that are ignored or normalised.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane’ is not for the faint hearted. Physical cruelty that is horrifyingly believable is layered on top of continual mental abuse. Director Paige Rattray has the audience mesmerised and waiting for the next blow, while the two men of the show – the gentle Pato Dooley (Hamish Michael) and his seething younger brother Ray (Shiv Palekar), complete a perfect cast of four.

Still want to go? You won’t be disappointed … just disturbed and appalled.

Roslyn Packer Theatre

Until 21 December

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