When it comes to family, we are all well aware that there is a certain way in which we present ourselves to the outside world and how we really are around the kitchen table; there is no hiding place for dysfunction and family tension. This notion is explored in Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane, apart of his Leenane Trilogy being presented by Kin Collective at Fortyfive Downstairs.

The first installment of the trilogy tells the darkly comedic yet excruciatingly heart-wrenching story of the relationship between a mother and daughter, forced to live together through mental illness and complete dependency.

Maureen Folan has been forced to look after her mother, Mag, since all her sisters have gotten married and has been left alone to shoulder the burden. The surface humor of the piece is born from this strained relationship yet there is that ever-present undercurrent of deeper issues that plague the two women. In a sense they are both trapped in a stale and confined existence in which neither party knows how to fully let go.

The performances of this production were absolutely immaculate. From the moment the audience enters the Fortyfive Downstairs space we are put at ease with the presence of Australian theatre and television royalty, Noni Hazlehurst asleep in a rocking chair. The implicit trust that is formed at this crucial moment remains with the entire cast and production until curtain call.

Hazlehurst as the cheeky yet troubled Mag Folan, leads the cast impeccably with her flawless ability to create the delicate fine line between the humor of a woman who has become accustomed to being waited on hand and foot, and the deep sadness and imminent terror of being left to fend for herself. Hazlehurst had the audience in tears of laughter one moment, and of alarmed concern for her safety the next. Her relationship with Michala Banas as Maureen Folan was so precise and detailed it became extremely hard to believe that the two actresses weren’t actually related. Banas’ rendition of the dry humored Irish lass whose inner turbulence ultimately takes control was simply astonishing.  Completely in awe of her performance I found myself entranced with her every nuance and every nibble of the Kimberly biscuits. Like Hazlehurst, I found Banas managed to parallel that fine line of laughter and pain.

Linc Hasler and Dylan Watson who play Pato Dooley and Ray Dooley respectively both held their own in this incredible powerhouse of a show. Watson had the audience like putty in his palm with his likable youth and arrogance, and Hasler tugged at our heartstrings with his genuine romancing of Maureen.

Special mention must go to set designer Casey-Scott Corless who completely transformed the Fortyfive Downstairs space into the Folan kitchen. With the performances amalgamating with this set, the audience was really taken into the personal lives of these characters in a very intimate way. The sound effects of running water and rain which featured many times throughout the show, left me feeling like I could simply close my eyes and be in the rainy Irish countryside of Leenane.

It is with the greatest of urgency I implore anyone and everyone to see this marvelous theatrical masterpiece, which features first class performances from four renowned Australian actors and a beautifully tragic story  that needs to be seen and heard. The Beauty Queen of Leenane runs as a part of the Leenane Trilogy at Fortyfive Downstairs until 15th June. Tickets and information available at www.fortyfivedownstairs.com

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