The Beauty Queen Of Leenane
Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch
Reviewed – 31st October 2019
“From the banal domesticity of the outset, Mark Babych’s direction creates an atmosphere of eerie foreboding”
As the rain pours down on an isolated cottage in the hills of Connemara, the fate of 40-year-old Maureen who lives with her mother, Mag, unravels in a compelling story of bitterness, hope and disillusion. Their hardened relationship of resentful co-dependence is threatened when an old friend, Pato, turns up unexpectedly and offers Maureen a new life. Refusing to be abandoned by her one constancy, Mag has no qualms about trying to prevent her daughter from leaving, but with drastic repercussions.
Martin McDonagh’s first play and part of the ‘Leenane Trilogy’, ‘The Beauty Queen of Leenane’, was his theatrical breakthrough in 1996. Inspired by the life and language he was immersed in during childhood summers in his father’s hometown, it is a masterpiece of plot and role enmeshment. The tragicomedy flows naturally from the Irish idiom and spirit, describing the trials and tribulations of a bleak existence but with a sharp, funny edge. From the banal domesticity of the outset, Mark Babych’s direction creates an atmosphere of eerie foreboding, the stifling timelessness of confinement is contrasted with the breezy dream of escape. This is reinforced in Sara Perks’ creative, detailed set, with the thick, cut-down walls revealing the wide, open sky, and Jess Addinall’s dramatic lighting design.
As the conversations develop, the layers are peeled back to reveal the complex balance of close-knit families, each very different person irrevocably bonded by the past. Maggie McCarthy is an unnervingly sinister Mag, swaying from needy elderly mother to remorseless manipulator. The charming yet sensitive Pato is played by Nicholas Boulton, with a genuinely moving show of affection for Maureen but, as the hidden conflicts of her character gradually surface she becomes ever more challenging; in an impassioned performance by Siobhan O’Kelly, Maureen faces the reality of the life she leads. Laurence Pybus is excellent as Pato’s slow-witted yet coltish brother, Ray, whose restless chatter and behaviour appears both comic and disturbing.
This production, in collaboration with Hull Truck Theatre, re-establishes the roots of McDonagh’s talent for dark comedy and reflects his innate feeling for the film genre which he successfully moved into later. The immaculate set and lighting have a cinematic quality and the direction, particularly at the end, draws on this. It is only at the culminating point that we lose connection due to the distance from the stage and the moment is not as chilling as it could be. In addition, the music and sound by Adam McCready, which generally fit this style, occasionally come across – particularly between scenes – quite oversized for such an intimate atmosphere. With accomplished, subtly powerful acting ‘The Beauty Queen of Leenane’ hooks the audience into the corrosive, emotional entanglement with suspense and engaging wit.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
Photography by Ian Hodgson
The Beauty Queen Of Leenane
Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch until 16th November
Previously reviewed at this venue: