Tag Archives: Maggie McCarthy

The Beauty Queen Of Leenane


Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

The Beauty Queen Of Leenane

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:
Rope | ★★★★ | February 2018
The Game of Love and Chai | ★★★ | April 2018
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert | ★★★ | May 2018
Abi | ★★★★ | September 2018
Abigail’s Party | ★★★½ | September 2018
Once | ★★★★★ | October 2018
Haunting Julia | ★★ | November 2018
The Hired Man | ★★★ | April 2019
As You Like It | ★★★★ | August 2019


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The Turn of the Screw – 3 Stars


The Turn of the Screw

Colchester Mercury

Reviewed – 8th March 2018


“subtle layering of shadows and downlights gave a real boost to the overall gothic and insidious feel of the play”


Tim Luscombe’s take on Turn of the Screw is a lesson in well considered casting and tight production values. From the outset there is a distinct sense of unease, begun with the skewed set frame and followed through into the opening scene of increasingly uncomfortable conversation between the two most prominent cast members – Carli Norris as The Governess and Annabel Smith as ‘Mrs Conray’. What follows is a twisting tale of death and mystery told to examine the concept of what it is to be truly haunted.

Carli Norris is a solid leading lady, flowing well between the nuances of a demure and well intentioned governess to the unhinged but doting companion of two apparently disturbed children.

Annabel Smith was quite perfect in jumping between the aspects of her character, which could have easily become a messy portrayal of a girl at different points of her life but her performance was absorbing and very precisely defined. She was equally irritating, masterful, childish and cruel, and instrumental in holding together the leaps of the narrative between past and present with impeccable physical cues as well as her dialogue.

Michael Hanratty, billed initially as merely ‘The Man’ also turns out a well thought performance that made uncomfortable watching if only because his convincing childishness felt decidedly squeamish from an adult player – which of course was the point a lot of the time. Maggie McCarthy tied up the cast in a somewhat stereotypical role of good-old-working-class-woman-of-certain-age that was predictable but nonetheless well delivered.

It was no surprise to see a long list of classical theatre credits after the name of Matt Leventhall, the Lighting Designer, who deserves special mention. Although there are obvious bangs and jumps and sudden lights out moments to keep the audience jumping, the more subtle layering of shadows and downlights gave a real boost to the overall gothic and insidious feel of the play throughout to the point that one felt both relieved and over exposed when it was time for the house lights to come back up.

It really is all very well done, which makes me regret having to say that I think this might be a production recommended for genre fans only. I haven’t read Turn of the Screw, nor seen any of its Hollywood outings and I’m left with the feeling that this production was brought together by a team who adore the source material but have failed to make it entirely accessible via this play alone. Nothing in the telling is unclear, however. The premise and the action and the prescribed twist are all quite plainly there but it all fell a little bit flat, taking something of a downward turn not long into the second act.

I feel I was missing something, some greater understanding of the story or perhaps more of the time that it comes from. I love a period drama, but there needs to be something fundamentally relatable to really bring all of the stiff old fashioned costumes and storm tossed country estates to life for me, and I suspect that had I read the Henry James novella I might have found it easier to immerse myself in this play. As such I’m not sure in summary if I was disappointed in the production, or disappointed in myself for not being more well prepared to enjoy it!


Reviewed by Jenna Barton

Photography by Robert Workman


The Turn of the Screw

Colchester Mercury until 10th March then touring



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