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The Beauty Queen of Leenane (Colchester)

This well-acted and chilling play at the Mercury Theatre focuses on two women in a remote rural Irish village

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Nora Connolly and Michele Moran
© Pamela Raith

Isolation produces frustration. Frustration leads to many things – and some of them can be horrific. Martin McDonagh's The Beauty Queen of Leenane in Paul Kerryson's new production opens and closes with a rainfall.

In between we follow the disintegration of stay-at-home daughter Maureen, tasked by her married siblings with the care of their elderly mother.

Michele Moran's performance as Maureen – acclaimed by Kieran Johnson in his review when this shared production opened last month in Leicester – is a mesmerising one.

At the start of the play, one has sympathy for the character. Nora Connolly's Mags, the endlessly demanding matriarch in her rocking chair is presented as a thoroughly unsavoury and manipulating old woman.

The catalyst is the return to their isolated village from England and now bound for America, that land of opportunity for so many Irish men, of Pato Dooley (Stephen Hogan).

This is Maureen's chance of escape, if only Mags and Pato's brother Ray (Andrew Macklin) will permit it. But wishful thinking is never going to make reality out of fantasy, as the dénouement makes clear. You can daydream as much as you like, but life is something different.

If Moran's portrayal of a woman obsessed past danger point is central to the whole story, Connolly runs her a close second. Hogan subtly indicates Pato's inner weaknesses as well as his outer strengths and Macklin gives us a young man brimming over with all the wrong sorts of impatience.

The fine set is by Juliet Shillingford. In Leicester it played in The Curve's studio space and the main auditorium of the Mercury Theatre has been adapted to create the same intimacy between stage and audience.