Review | The Beauty Queen of Leenane at The Minerva Theatre, Chichester: 'This is fine, fine acting'

First up at The Minerva in Chichester this season we have Martin McDonagh’s 1996 play The Beauty Queen of Leenane.

Friday, 10th September 2021, 2:53 pm
Orla Fitzgerald (Maureen) & Adam Best (Pato) in The Beauty Queen of Leenane at the Minerva Theatre. Picture by Helen Maybanks
Orla Fitzgerald (Maureen) & Adam Best (Pato) in The Beauty Queen of Leenane at the Minerva Theatre. Picture by Helen Maybanks

McDonagh, like Pinter, is the master of the blackest comedy; there are times, here, where you feel guilty for finding things funny – but laugh you will, regardless.

The play tells the story of Maureen Folan, a 40 year-old Irish woman, unmarried and a virgin, who lives with her controlling mother.

Life has not been kind to either, it would seem, but the truth of their situation is also hazy. As with all McDonagh’s work – that truth, only confirmed at the end, is bitter and sad.

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This production, in cahoots with The Lyric, Hammersmith, is as good a piece of theatre as you could wish for and sits very comfortably in The Minerva.

As Maureen, we have the sublime Orla Fitzgerald. It is she with whom our sympathies lie to begin with and despite her harshness to her mother, sympathise we do.

The genius of McDonagh’s writing combined with Fitzgerald’s performance, here, is that, despite all that happens, that sympathy still hangs heavy at the end.

Mag, the mother, selfish to the point of happily attempting to destroy her daughter’s life for the sake of her own self-preservation, is the wonderful Ingrid Craigie.

Neither she nor Fitzgerald are frightened of a silence and these two fill that silence with dialogue. The genius of these actors is that you can hear their thoughts in that silence.

This is true, too, of Adam Best as Pato. In the scene where Pato and Maureen arrive back at Maureen’s house after a party, the two of them having but one thing on their collective mind, again the thoughts are loud and clear. This is fine, fine acting.

Kwaku Fortune expresses well the frustrations of Pato’s Australian-soap-opera-loving brother, Ray, especially in his letter-delivering scene with Craigie – but I found a lot of his dialogue difficult to hear, possibly as a result of the accent.

As a contrast to South Pacific, it works brilliantly and if these two are representative of the rest of the Festival Theatre season – it could be the best one in a while.

Until October 2.

Tickets at cft.org.uk.