It was a potential disaster situation - taking a group of Irish people to see an Irish play by an Australian company. They’re a fiercely patriotic lot, the Irish, so I knew if there was one accent blunder, one slip-up of authenticity, I’d never hear the end of it.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane is the inaugural production of Wildfire Theatre, a company that aims to “produce dynamic, physical works, both new and classical, with a strong cultural case for both adult and senior school audiences.” Written by Martin McDonagh, the play is a black comedy, situated in the very specific culture and location of the west of Ireland - a remote town called Leenane. The action is confined to the small house of Mag (played by Maggie Blinco), an elderly woman, and her daughter Maureen (Sandra Stockley). Maureen has been held hostage by her mother’s ailments and meddling, preventing her from having a social life. Everything changes when Pato (Patrick Connolly) shows up - a long-time neighbour whose return from London makes Maureen see him in a new light. Through her new passion, she can see her home situation more clearly, and begins to take matters into her own hands.
Director Maeliosa Stafford (an Irishman himself) has done an excellent job with this production. The focus is on the characters, and the actors all turn in dynamic performances. Blinco and Stockley, who are both onstage for the majority of the play, have a fiery chemistry that cleverly portrays the mother-daughter tension. Also, their Irish accents are very good - and Irish is surely one of the more difficult accents to master. Connolly is also a definite standout, although admittedly he has the upper hand by being Irish as well. His earnestness and comic timing are of a quality that belies his relatively short acting career. Michael Gupta (who play’s Pato’s younger brother Ray), also does a good job, however I found his constant nervousness and tension a little too one-dimensional. His Irish accent was also far less convincing than the others.
Overall, I found The Beauty Queen of Leenane very enjoyable. The performances drive the piece, and the direction keeps the action flowing smoothly and rapidly. I was thankful for that at the end, when my Irish friends had nothing but good things to say. They, and I, loved the comedy and the authenticity - down to the real Irish biscuits, tea and soft drink onstage - maybe they should serve some to the audience at interval?!
Wildfire Theatre Company presents
The Beauty Queen Of Leenane
by Martin McDonagh
Venue: The Seymour Centre
Dates/Times: Tuesday 4th - Saturday 15th March, 2008. 8pm.
Phone: 02 9351 7940