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Greater London
posted/updated: 07 Nov 2019 -
The Beauty Queen of Leenane
Martin McDonagh
society/company: Tower Theatre Company (directory)
performance date: 06 Nov 2019
venue: Tower Theatre,Stoke Newington, London N16 7HR
reviewer/s: Alex Wood (Sardines review)

Photos: Robert Piwko

It seemed especially fitting that this very Irish play should be seen in this area of north London, for many generations a home to Irish exiles.

Martin McDonagh's first play is based in Leenane in Connemara in the far west of Ireland - beautiful  for a holidaymaker on a sunny summer's day but rural, isolated and dull for those who live there. On the face of it the play is about the uncomfortable and unpleasant relationship between Mag and her 40-year-old daughter, Maureen, trapped in her small village and by her domineering mother. Into this comes Pato, a man from the village who has left to work on building sites in London but returns to Leenane for family occasions, and his younger brother Ray - apparently unemployed, unhappy and frustrated by his lot in this dead end place.

At one level the play gives its audience an incisive insight into life in pre-Celtic Tiger rural Ireland. The cottage where Maureen and her daughter live, as represented by Phillip Ley's set, is sparse, dark and grim, with the usual religious symbols and pictures of the Kennedy brothers - a slightly desperate nod to successful catholics across the Atlantic. Pato, who has 'got out' says that he is never happy when he is in England but is unhappy when he is in Leenane; an echo of Mag's rejoinder to Maureen who wants to hear Irish spoken on the radio (2/3 of Connemara's inhabitants can speak Irish) - but how could people get jobs in England, or America, if they couldn't speak English?

Maureen's life looks as if it might change when Pato and her meet at a farewell party for a visiting American relation. No more than acquantances until this point Pato tells her that he thinks of her as 'the beauty queen of Leenane' before they spend the night together. When Pato greets Mag the next morning it is obvious that Maureen and him have slept together.

The rest of the play is about the way life does change - in a shocking way - for Maureen and her mother.

For me, the reason this is such a wonderful play is that, apart from the hauntingly sad story it tells, McDonagh gives us four characters who leave us thinking about them long after we have seen it.

The Tower Theatre Company provide us with some very fine acting. Diction and movement around the stage is very good and - whilst I am not competent to judge if they are authentic west of Ireland - the accents are consistent across the four actors involved.

Amanda Waggott plays Mag with a great deal of skill; when she is not moaning or complaining she demanding, demanding, demanding. Her disapproval of her daughter having a life of her own only too obvious.And Julia Flatley excels as Maureen, expressing superbly her feeling of being trapped in her mother's home and the village which contrasts with her happiness, hope and a certain abandon after her night with Pato.

Nick Cannon impresses as Pato, frustrated with his lot in England but not fully at home in Ireland. His reading of his letter to Maureen is one of the play's highlights - delievered perfectly in spite of the accompanying fireworks on the night I was there. Lovely acting - totally believable.

The same can be said about Simon Brookes' portrayal of Ray, a bundle of impatience and alienation, his attitude to Mag an all too obvious reflection of this.

I saw this play on its first night. There were some practical problems with the set and, whilst no-one forgot their lines I am still wondering whether the bullying priest was Fr Welsh or Walsh! And the stove appeared to be burning heartily but never seemed to get hot enough to stop characters being careful about touching it or the blade of the poker.

It lacked what I can only describe as polish - but I suspect this will soon come.

These criticisms aside I enjoyed The Beauty Queen of Leenane very much.

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