The Beauty Queen Of Leenane

Martin McDonagh’s reputation as both a playwright and filmmaker has grown immensely since the first production of his debut play in 1996. With the much acclaimed crime thriller In Bruges winning critical plaudits and awards by the bucketload, and with later plays such as The Pillowman and The Lieutenant Of Inishmore sealing his status as an enfant terrible of the theatre – a sort of Irish Quentin Tarantino of the stage – it makes a fascinating experience to revisit The Beauty Queen of Leenane which, in the Young Vic’s highly assured staging, reveals that McDonagh’s talent was evident from the beginning.

The set-up has nightmarish echoes of a bleaker, Irish Steptoe & Son. Maureen Folan, a plain, downtrodden virgin is living with her domineering, demanding mother Mag, whose most frequently voiced requests are for Complan, shortbread fingers and porridge. Maureen, who has only ever been kissed twice – ‘two men is two men too much!’ – has her head turned by the decent but somewhat diffident neighbour Pato Dooley, who she attends a party with. Mag, however, sees nothing in her daughter’s potential relationship but her own abandonment, and schemes to plot its downfall. Things go very, very badly wrong.

In the first half, it seems faintly unclear as to where the play is going. Nods to Beckett and Pinter (and possibly even a touch of Tennessee Williams) jostle alongside digs at Irish convention, as Pato’s idiotic younger brother Ray offers his lack of surprise that a nearby priest has had an illegitimate child – ‘now if he’d punched that babby in the head, that’d be news!’ However, in the second and superior half, beginning with a bravura one-scene monologue as Pato attempts to compose two letters, McDonagh ramps up the tension and black comedy to near-unbearable levels, as audience sympathy begins to shift and turn.

The Young Vic’s fine production, more than capably directed by Joe Hill-Gibbins, boasts an authentically grim set (designed by Ultz, who did similar wonders with the set for the recent Jerusalem) that perfectly captures the horrible atmosphere that the protagonists find themselves in. It’s extremely well acted by Rosaleen Linehan as Mag and Susan Lynch as Maureen, although Lynch is far too striking fully to convince as a woman described as plain, and David Ganly offers excellent support as the decent Pato. Given the warmth of the audience reaction, there seems little doubt that this will be a sell-out hit, and so you’d be well advised to get to the Young Vic to see this fine production sooner rather than later.


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