The Beauty Queen of Leenane | Review

Lachlan Parry

The Beauty Queen of Leenane is the Sydney Theatre Company’s final production for 2019 and closes the year with a show that is sure to keep you thinking. The show gives a glimpse into a world so different from our own that you can’t help but fall into it while watching greats of the Australian Stage flourish. Paige Rattray stuns audiences with this revival of Martin McDonagh’s 1996 play, with a standout cast that will make you laugh, cry, and probably text your Mum that you love her after the show.

Maureen (Yael Stone) is a 40-year-old woman who lives in the hills of Ireland, desperately wishing her life had turned out different. Her roommate and only companion is her mother Mag (Noni Hazlehurst) who is aged and grouchy. This mother-dynamic is far from warm and is probably best described as reeking of piss. The pair find anything to argue over, from their past to the best kind of biscuit, and from sexual freedom to the consistency of porridge. When two of the local boys arrive with an invitation for Maureen, she sees it as a way out and will do whatever it takes to get what she wants. As I came to understand, McDonagh has a way of writing dark, cruel stories and I promise that if you catch this show before it’s end on Sunday, it will leave your head thumping.

Rattray’s direction is poised and clever and her work with the designer, Renee Mulder, and lighting designer, Paul Jackson, brings a small house on a cold Irish hill to life. It has great attention to detail and presents the audience with a more traditional view  of the set that only becomes richer as the text develops. Her take on The Beauty Queen of Leenane portrays a mother-daughter relationship that is easily accessible to a lot of the audience, with deeper layers and details that speak to the reality of isolation, ageing, and poverty.

Given the show’s powerhouse lead performances, I would find it hard to believe that audience members had not been impacted by this show. Stone’s performance as Maureen is something I am so glad I saw, it is erratic and vivid and so tragic that you won’t be able to stop yourself feeling for this character, as deplorable as she may be sometimes. Hazlehurst’s performance as Mag is subtle and while her teeth are still bared, she finds gentle ways to remind us of the character’s reality. Both display extraordinary technical skills that are simply explosive when put together.

The rest of the cast consists of Hamish Michael as Pato Dooley, who is Maureen’s chance to escape and is played so sensitively that I damn near fell in love with him too, and Shiv Palekar as Ray Dooley is a force that will have you cursing with laughter. Palekar’s part in the final scene is worthy of buying a ticket for just on its own.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane is ferociously funny, darkly mortifying, and deeply sad. I will be thinking about it for a long time to come and I cannot recommend it enough. It is two hours of some of the best performances we have seen on Australian stages this year.

Find tickets here.