Tag Archives: Simon Brooke

The Beauty Queen Of Leenane


The Tower Theatre

Beauty Queen Of Leenane

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:
To Kill a Mockingbird | ★★★½ | October 2018
Table | ★★★★ | November 2018
The Seagull | ★★★ | November 2018
Talk Radio | ★★★½ | March 2019
Happy Days | ★★★★★ | April 2019
Little Light | ★★★ | June 2019


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Review of Nell Gwynn – 4 Stars


Nell Gwynn

Bridewell Theatre

Reviewed – 7th December 2017


“Wardlaw is simply charming as Nell. She easily carries the weight of the title character with ferocity, grace and always a cheeky look in her eye.”


Nell Gwynn is Jessica Swale’s 2015 play about the famous English actress and mistress of King Charles II. Written originally for The Globe Theatre starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw with a subsequent West End transfer starring Gemma Arterton, this amateur production directed by Roger Beaumont brings heart (if not polished professionalism) to Blackfriars.

Grace Wardlaw is simply charming as Nell. She easily carries the weight of the title character with ferocity, grace and always a cheeky look in her eye. Wardlaw will be snapped up by the West End very quickly if casting agents are paying attention. Having seen the original production, it’s not unfair to say Wardlaw gave original Nell – Mbatha-Raw a good run for her money. I can certainly see her playing Nancy in Oliver! in the not-to-distant-future.

James Dart (King Charles II) has an excellent time swanning about the palace in tights, playing at royalty, and his relationship with Nell is sweet and touching. Simon Brooke is a gorgeously camp, scene-stealing Edward Kynaston. In kimono and wig-cap, Brooke’s comic timing and physicality leave him as an audience favourite. Felix Grainger is spritely and enthusiastic as tortured playwright, John Dryden. And Valerie Antwi comes into her own in the second act playing the comical serving lady and reluctant actress, Nancy. (Although, it did feel uncomfortable that the only non-white member of the cast was a servant, particularly given the original non-white casting of Gwynn in 2015).

The show suffered from an unfortunately mistimed party above the venue, meaning quieter moments were lost in the background noise – a reminder that however good the acting, it’s often the venues that let amateur productions down.

The action takes place over several locations around London meaning the ensemble/stage hands had their work cut out for them. Scene changes were sometimes slow, but were peppered with characterisation like ensemble member Alice Boorman getting increasingly frustrated picking up Dryden’s discarded pages. Director Beaumont also provides an elaborately designed set complete with Royal Box. I felt it would have benefitted from a simpler, stripped down set with additional lighting as the combination of the set and costumes felt too busy for a small stage.

The live band led by Musical Director Jonathan Norris provided nice accompaniment in the musical numbers (particularly the catchy ‘I can dance and I can sing’), however some notes went astray as the show went on.

This show was far from perfect, but like Ms Gwynn, it had charm, wit and gusto.


Reviewed by TheatreFox

Photography by Richard Piwko


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Nell Gwynn

is at the Bridewell Street Theatre until 16th December



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