This was an evening of firsts for me, a first visit to the Shelley Theatre and the first time I had seen Arena Theatre. However it was not the first time I had seen the beautifully lyrical play The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh, which for me is one of my favourites.
It is a dark comedy and this production of the play is very truthful to that. The story is of an aging mother (Mag), very fearful of the future without her daughter (Maureen) by her side to make endless cups of tea, porridge and complan. Set in a backdrop of rural Ireland and against a developing relationship between Maureen and local man Pato Dooley, this play is emotional and examines the pressures and guilt of the mother/daughter relationship.
For the play to work it has to be intense and the audience have to be right in the action. I sat some 12 rows back from the traditional stage layout which meant I could not always pick up the words as the accents were quite thick.
There was an absolute stand out performance from Joanna Dunbar as Maureen Folan, the put-up Daughter who is desperate to have a loving relationship. She absolutely commanded the part and the stage. Virgina Harrington, playing Mag Folan, was delightful with a cross between Mrs Overall and Peggy Mitchell. It was clear that she was on top of the words, however some of the throw away lines were lost. There were solid performances from Adam Stoddard as Pato Dooley and Daniel Withey as Ray Dooley who both moved the story along nicely.
The stage was suitably confused and muddled which suited the play. The lighting was patchy across the stage, although this may well be due to the facilities availble at the threatre, and the linking music and effects not loud enough to really knit this production together as much as it needed.
Director Francesca Folan had a strong cast. However, there were small annoying details that were left unaddressed, like props that seemed to be incorrect for the time of setting and having a rain sound effect followed by a character coming in from outside bone dry.
All in all, a fantastic play, a strong cast but some more attention to the smaller details and a better staging would have elevated this to the level it deserved.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane can be seen at The Lighthouse in Poole between 19th and 22nd September 2018.