This review also appears on the Western Park Gazette’s website, click here
Paul Kerryson continues to mine a rich seam of success as he brings his third Martin McDonagh play to Curve’s Studio theatre with The Beauty Queen of Leenane (showing until 9 November).
This was McDonagh’s breakthrough play in 1996 and is a tragi-comic tale of unhappy relationships and ‘love that might have been’ in rural West Ireland in the 1990s. Maureen (a compelling Michele Moran) is 40 years old and a virgin thanks to spending her adult life caring for her demanding mother Mags (a needling Nora Connelly). Maureen’s festering resentment of her situation comes to a head following a night out with Pato Dooley (Stephen Hogan) and, in typical McDonagh style, grand melodrama ensues.
The exchanges between Mags and Maureen are convincing; humour and poignancy batted back and forth, power shifting between mother and daughter as secrets are gradually revealed. Maureen and Pato’s relationship is both tender and passionate, whilst Pato’s brother Ray (Andrew Macklin) provides amusing asides.
Juliet Shillingford’s set depicts a typical Irish cottage although it felt a little too spacious. Mags and Maureen’s relationship is claustrophobic, both unable to break from each other for different reasons yet the set implies space. However, this space could also reflect the overriding sense of loneliness of the main characters. Short musical interludes between set changes are a good idea but it became distracting. Also, whilst impressive, the lashing rain at the start and end of the performance felt superfluous and ‘gimmicky’.
But these are minor quibbles in what is an intriguing play performed by a strong cast. I have also never seen actors prepare quite so much food on stage with Maureen supplying endless cups of tea, biscuits and Complan as well as knocking up bowls of porridge.
You may have seen McDonagh’s BAFTA winning film In Bruges (2008). McDonagh has a reputation for mixing dark comedy with violence and The Beauty Queen of Leenane is no exception with one particularly nasty scene. Leenane is referred to as a lovely part of the world yet to those who live there it is a wild and difficult landscape, invariably wet and cold and few people nearby; it felt like a lonely part of the world.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane is a lot of what great theatre should be: emotional, entertaining but with some Beauty secrets still left hidden.
Photos by Pamela Raith Photography