Maureen Folan (Julie Hale) leads a frustrating and angry life looking after her elderly mother Mag (Nuala Walsh), thanks in great part to the latter’s mix of necessary dependency due to old age and her less than charming personality. Maureen has a few issues herself, highlighted by the forced proximity and partly due the frustrations of missed opportunities, a personal grief echoed by the many Irish folk forced to pursue other lives in America and England.
One such person is the attractive Pato Dooley (Paul Carroll), older brother of neighbour Ray (Ian O’Reilly), who is back in his hometown for a short stay, and with whom a meeting offers Maureen some escape from her troubles, though in what way remains to be seen.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane is the first part of Martin McDonagh’s first trilogy of Leenane plays (the other parts of which are A Skull in Connemara and The Lonesome West), though he may be better known in the mainstream for his work as a screenwriter and director on In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri. These two sides seem to be coming together this year though, as the unreleased third part of his second trilogy of plays, The Banshees of Innesheer, shares at least a title with his new film, coming out in the UK this week.
The director of this production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Lyn McAndrew, says she has wanted to put it on for over twenty years, since she first saw the original production in Ireland’s Druid Theatre in the 90s, and she has certainly not neglected her chance. The attention to detail is meticulous, from Ken Harrison’s sad, mundane and religious set to the regular rain beating down in Debra Salem’s sound design, to the performances: charming, touching and funny in Carroll’s case, and funny, sad, and cruel in the cases of Hale and Walsh. O’Reilly does well too, alternating between boyish humour and barely repressed anger, though, as the younger performer, he has less to do, and his character probably shows most the inequality of action between the first and second act.
McDonagh has obviously developed as a writer, and it should probably be a relief that his first public script is neither perfect, nor his best. But clearly the talent for dark comedy, tragic characters and dramatic moments was always there, and this production shows it all off to its best effect, with both many memorable moments and a well-made build-up to its tragic ending. It seems to be a good week to be a McDonagh fan.
Playing until 22nd October, https://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event/the-beauty-queen-of-leenane
Reviewer: Oliver Giggins
Reviewed: 19th October 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★