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TimeOut: The Leenane Trilogy

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See article in its original context here by Andrew Fuhrmann for the TimeOut Melbourne.

Noni Hazlehurst knows what she wants and the way she wants to get it

The theatre of playwright Martin McDonagh is a famously savage place, full of violence, loathing and loneliness. It’s a haunted, darkly comic world, one lit in flashes by a kind of lurid blarney, a verbal pyrotechnics that leads one reeling, like Drunk Jack himself, into the secret fens and bog-pools of the modern Irish imagination.

His unusual talent first announced itself in The Leenane Trilogy, which premiered at the Druid Theatre Company Galway and went on to find success on Broadway and the West End.

In late May, local company the Kin Collective will be presenting all three Leenane plays in an ambitious new program at fortyfivedownstairs.

In the first play of the trilogy, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, a conniving old mother, Mag, played by Noni Hazlehurst, clings desperately to Maureen, her embittered daughter, played by Michala Banas, a lonely spinster dreaming of a better life.

The resentment between the two stunted creatures is obvious from the first.

“All McDonagh’s characters in one way or another demonstrate the toxic consequences of a reduced life,” says Hazlehurst. “Mag is at the point of death, in my view. She has nothing to live for, but she doesn’t want to die.”

Both Mag and Maureen are shrewd in a dangerous, animalistic way, but country life has dulled their higher faculties.

“He tells stories about people at really at horrible points in their lives,” says Hazlehurst. “The spirit of survival is very much at work, but it’s up to you to decide whether that’s for better or worse.

McDonagh’s work, particularly in these early plays, has the feel of a medieval macabre. His comical Irish cretins embody Thomas Hobbes’ observation that life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. And brutish is no exaggeration. The violence, even between mother and daughter, is extraordinary.

“I’ve got sons who are 26 and 20, and I think I know why his plays have that crazy violence,” says Hazlehurst. “And remember they were written in the mid-1990s, too, which if you think of the movies of that time, like Pulp Fiction, was something that was in the air.”

But more than the grisly violence, Hazlehurst and the Kin Collective hope to honour McDonagh’s bounding, rattling, virtuoso way with words. It almost goes without saying that they’re hard at work on their Irish accents.

“Any production where the accents are even a little bit slimy at this level, it’s unforgivable,” says Hazlehurst. “And it’s a beautiful thing when you start to become fluent in it, because the words start to come to life, they become cellular, they really live.”

The Kin Collective’s emphasis on the organic rhythm of the text, on its swing and musicality, comes in part from acting coach Larry Moss. The company’s founding members, including Noni Hazlehurst, met three years ago at a Larry Moss masterclass, and have met every week since.

It was from these original “Larry-kins” that the Kin Collective was born.

“We had a profound breakthrough about what we wanted to do and the way we wanted to do it,” explains Hazlehurst.

Moss taught them that great art requires constant work, an ethos which partly explains their current ambitious schedule of three plays in three weeks. But, as Hazlehurst notes, “It beats sitting around waiting for the phone to ring.”

First published on 27 Mar 2014. Updated on 28 Apr 2014.

By Andrew Fuhrmann |


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