City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

The Beauty Queen of Leenane Review

By Lindsay Corr - Posted on 04 March 2010

The Beauty Queen of Leenane
Show Details
Tony Cownie (Director), Martin McDonagh (Writer), Janet Bird (Designer)
Cara Kelly (Maureen), Nora Connolly (Mag), John Kazek (Pato), Dylan Kennedy (Ray).
Running time: 

Now Martin McDonagh has been thrust into the spotlight for award-winning short films and his Oscar nominated feature length In Bruges, it seems only fitting that the Lyceum present his first major play, which premiered in 1996 in Galway, with a quick transfer to London.

Looking back reminds us how far people have come and McDonagh’s remarkable piece shows us that he didn’t come to attention quietly, but went straight in with gusty determination, presented in the brilliant composition and linguistic pulse of The  Beauty Queen of Leenane.

Pairing Synge’s comedic strokes with an alarming postmodern edge, McDonagh guides us through the story of frustrated 40-year-old Maureen Folan (Cara Kelly), trapped in a bleak Connemara cottage with her cranky ‘oul ma’ Mag (Nora Connolly), who’ll stop at nothing to make sure she has Maureen to skivvy and fetch for her.

The dynamic of the piece is flawless; with not much going on, it manages to both make the time fly as the audience perch on their seat to see what will happen next, but also gives justice to the weighty tedium faced by Kelly’s character, trapped in mundane servitude.

Although the action is sparse, it is perfectly pitched and delivered seamlessly by a quartet of actors relishing the opportunity, and the meaty dialogue exchanges (even though there were a few issues with maintaining the Irish lilt) ensure much food for thought on many topics including exile, religion, poverty, sexual desire and dormant violence.

It is easy to see why McDonagh’s play has often been mistaken for a pastiche on traditional drama, with the crux of the story hanging on the heroine not receiving a vital piece of information and the baddie finally receiving retribution in form most foul. Yet it is McDonagh’s skill as a storyteller that draws the audience in and convinces with vitality, as he seamlessly uses the conventions of Irish drama, with little nods to many a great writer including Brian Friel and Tom Murphy.

Tony Cownie’s direction is spot on with beautiful moments of nuance, allowing the audience to verbally gasp in horror and chortle with delight, as the play endlessly throws an array of mixed emotions towards you. The encroaching atmosphere is highlighted in Janet Bird’s gloomy set which, like the characters, seems to be hanging on the brink and about to collapse at any moment.

All these aspects come together superbly and serve well to highlight the true reason McDonagh’s plays are loved, even though they give the appearance of conventional kitchen-sink drama. It is his ability to turn the minutiae of ordinariness into a horrifying circus of double-crossing and lies, possibly suggesting that every person out there will ultimately do things that serve to favour themselves.

Show runs til 13 March

© Lindsay Corr, March 2010