The Beauty Queen Of Leenane
The Tower Theatre
Reviewed – 7th November 2019
“Waggott’s ability to balance frailty and seeming harmlessness with taloned cruelty is quite spectacular”
Martin McDonagh has made quite a name for himself in the past few years as a connoisseur of pitch-black humour and crooked characters. Whilst he’s become a household name for major screenplays such as In Bruges and Oscar-winning Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, his ability to make an entire audience laugh at the most heinous crimes, and then to gasp at their own inhumanity, is showcased most spectacularly in the theatre.
Having climbed to such great heights as casting Jim Broadbent in the starring role of his most recent West End production, A Very Very Very Dark Matter, it’s quite a treat to go back to McDonagh’s first play and see where he began, and indeed where his twisted sense of humour and humanity first came to fruition.
At forty years old, Maureen (Julia Flatley) still lives with her seemingly ailing mother, Mag (Amanda Waggott), in Leenane, a small Irish village. Embittered by the cards she’s been dealt, Maureen spends her days snapping at her mother and telling her of her fantasies of finding her corpse on the kitchen table. Mag seems little concerned by her daughter’s misery and isolation, and appears to want her to stay forever, regardless.
But at a party at the neighbours’, Maureen reconnects with an old crush, the neighbours’ son Pato (Nick Cannon), and she dares to wonder that there might be a way out of her miserable and lonely existence after all. That is if her mother doesn’t have anything to say on the matter.
The set (Philip Ley) is detailed but traditional, allowing the psychological gymnastics of the script, rather than an overly complex design, to do the talking. The entire story takes place in Maureen and Mag’s kitchen-living room, the room in which they spend the majority of their days, and you can feel the sense of crushing claustrophobia by which Maureen is tormented, and which Mag depends upon, like a crusty old corset.
Waggott’s ability to balance frailty and seeming harmlessness with taloned cruelty is quite spectacular, and Flatley is an equally armed adversary. There’s a natural desire to find the villain in this story, but both are so twisted and yet so tormented, it’s impossible to pick a side.
In stark contrast, Cannon’s open-faced, sweet nature seems completely foreign in this household. Bringing a little levity to the plot, he’s a pleasant reminder that this room isn’t the whole world, and that not everyone is full of rancor and vitriol.
Simon Brooke, playing Pato’s petulant younger brother, is plenty energetic, but he could do with toning it down a tiny bit, just so that when he’s really losing his patience, or being especially sulky, we can tell.
For the first half, I don’t know that I saw much of what I have come to recognise as McDonagh hallmarks, but as the story unravels, so too does the web of miseries and mishaps, and, most disquietingly, somehow we’re laughing at it all. The Beauty Queen of Leenane, as directed by Colette Dockery, is perhaps more subtle than his most recent works, but it is just as disturbingly sadistic, and perniciously potent.
Reviewed by Miriam Sallon
Photography by Robert Piwko
The Beauty Queen Of Leenane
The Tower Theatre until 16th November
Previously reviewed at this venue: