Oh, how we love a black comedy hailing from the Emerald Isle. The Beauty Queen of Leenane is part of Martin McDonagh’s Leenane trilogy; The Lonesome West got another airing last year at Belvoir Downstairs, while A Skull in Connnemara might be in the works somewhere, at the very least now my darkened imagination. Anchored in a small, wet village in county Galway, while The Lonesome West followed the bitter feud of two brothers, The Beauty Queen follows the bitter feud of mother and daughter. The kind of bitter that would make wormwood want to crawl up and die. Mother Mag (Judi Farr) is a twisted and selfish old dame in the classic wicked witch mould, who demands non-lumpy Complan (a powdered milk drink) and thwarts her middle-aged, virgin daughter from getting a life whenever she can. Maureen (Mandy McElhinney) is no picnic either; all the villagers agree she wears terrible clothes and never says hello. Inside the grimy, cluttered house both are trapped by their unhappy lives, while outside the community is trapped by larger problems; racial misanthropy, unemployment, a lack of love and even decent Irish TV programming (all the soaps are from Australia, these days). A brief romantic dalliance with Pato Dooley (Darren Gilshenan) offers a ray of light; quickly smothered. This is a smart production, well played by all and set in a neatly nuanced slice of Irish domesticity. Despite being so dark and so devilish, studded as it with the kind of whiplash-inducing dialogue that McDonagh does so well, and framed by overarching familial fissures found the world over, it’s immediately accessible. This could be to do with McDonagh’s taste in film over theatre, so Beauty Queen plays out like an evil fairytale blockbuster. Either way, we were equal parts captivated and appalled.
Until Mar 13, Sydney Theatre Company, Walsh Bay, $21-31, 9250 1777, sydneytheatre.com.au