Perhaps better known in film circles for his astonishing feature debut, 2008’s comedy-thriller In Bruges, those familiar with Irish playwrite Martin McDonagh’s extensive theatre work are well aware that he’s no one-trick pony.
Originally performed in 1996, The Beauty Queen of Leenane opens in the kitchen of Mag (Carole Dance), a housebound old woman whose daily routine consists of consuming bowls of Complan, drinking tea and watching Australian soaps on TV.
Meg is looked after by daughter Maureen (Alice Selwyn) whose life has taken a distinctly unfortunate turn as she ensures her mother has everything she needs while looking after their rural farm.
When local lad Pato (Paul Boyle) returns to the village to see off some friends, he and Maureen meet, have a one night stand and set in motion a chain of events which will see mother and daughter finally face their feelings once and for all.
Starting out like a darker version of Steptoe and Son (though take away the laughter track and even Steptoe is a tragedy) with mother trapping daughter in a kind of purgatory with no easy escape route, Beauty Queen soon adds layers to the story that makes it more than a comedy.
Setting up his characters and their foibles, McDonagh then starts to turn what we know on its head as ancillary characters are introduced to the mix and new revelations are unveiled.
The appearance of Pato is a welcome one, his kind nature at odds with the bizarre family life he’s wandered into after a night of passion. There’s also a superb comic turn from Alan DeVally as dim-witted Ray, his discussion of Kimberley biscuits, Sons & Daughters and pokers grounding the story in some kind of reality.
With audience loyalties changing from scene to scene and the plot refusing to stop twisting until the final moments, this is a perfectly formed production which, unlike Maureen’s daily tasks, never becomes a chore.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane tours until 28 November – visit the London Classic Theatre website for dates.