The Beauty Queen of Leenane

Out of the Blue Theatre Company presents Martin McDonagh's 'The Beauty Queen of Leenane'.

Out of the Blue Theatre Company presents Martin McDonagh's 'The Beauty Queen of Leenane'.

Martin McDonagh may have moved on to movies but his award-winning Leenane trilogy has inscribed itself into the essential canon of Irish theatre. As such, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, the first and arguably the most popular of McDonagh’s triumphant triumvirate, is destined to be performed, with varying success, over and over by theatre groups of disparate backgrounds and standing.

McDonagh’s greatest achievement in the writing of Beauty Queen is the equality he achieves between the outlandish humour of the surreal, ironic and knowing stage-Irishness portrayed and the real darkness at the core of it all. Any production of Beauty Queen stands or falls on its ability to conjure up that electrifying balance of opposites. Out of the Blue’s production favours a slightly more humorous interpretation. In doing so, the darkness and the cruelty at the centre of the drama, and how it bludgeons all that is gentle, is a little bit lost in all the laughter. Nevertheless, this is still a courageous and committed staging, one that has the bravery to play a little with the original text.

After the initial humorous parries and thrusts between mother and daughter, Mag and Maureen Folan respectively, we get a real glimpse, especially through the third party figure of Pato Dooley and the threat he poses by possibly taking Maureen away, of the idea that the ties that bind can also be murderous ones. Middle-aged Maureen is suffocating under the burden of taking care of her hypochondriac, insistent mother. For her own part, Mag’s desperate fears that she’ll be left alone spur her into incredibly self-serving acts of selfishness in relation to Maureen. Of course, all of this malignancy is embossed with grotesque hilarity, embodied not least in the manner by which Mag, aggravated by “the urine infection”, offloads her nightly micturitions into the kitchen sink.

Beauty Queen of LeenaneThe themes of sexual aridness and repression are still here. Likewise, in the same way that Synge in his Playboy of the Western World shone a light on some less edifying aspects of the Irish character in the midst of great humour, McDonagh’s Beauty Queen reveals a viciousness and urgency behind the clich├ęd, more romantic and quaint views of Irishness promulgated particularly by the ex-pat demographic of his upbringing. The devastation of the repression and the covert cruelty that was probably a by-product of it, wreaks its havoc on all the characters but it is most humorously encapsulated in the seemingly marginal figure of Pato’s ‘messenger boy’ younger brother, Ray Dooley.

As such, the characterisation and presentation of Ray is crucial in any production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane if it wants to show the verging-on psychotic and desperate symbiosis there is between its gallows humour and the doomed nature of its characters. Director Sean Ronan prefers to focus more on the funny side of Ray rather than the darker. Thus, Ray’s moments on stage are earmarked by speed and haste, and less intense brooding and space.

Indeed, the style of the characterisation of Ray (Ronan Murphy), where the lighter tones come to the fore, is shared by all the others, with the exception at times of Suzanne Lakes' portrait of Maureen. The interactions between Maureen and Mag run along a little too swiftly for the most part. Anne-Marie Mooney’s Mag is the jolliest rendition this reviewer has seen. Surely, her laughter should carry more darkness? Again, with a view, perhaps, to giving the audience a soft option, Darren Harris’ Pato Dooley is a little too defeated from the off.

While only Suzanne Lakes manages to convey the darkness of Beauty Queen, the set design is spot on. The requisite iconic pictures of JFK, Mother Teresa and The Sacred Heart adorn the walls. The kitchen-cum-livingroom is appropriately bereft of luxury and dominated by the television set and the radio. The Complan and porridge, Mag’s staples, are suitably indigestible-looking.

All in all, Out of the Blue’s version of The Beauty Queen of Leenane may lack the intensity of some of its precursors. On the other hand, it’s lighter approach may well attract ever more fans to the drama of Martin McDonagh and that’s no bad thing at all.

Patrick Brennan was chief theatre critic and arts writer with the Irish Examiner from 1990-2004. He is a journalist and critic and is currently writing a book on the theatre of Tom Murphy.

  • Review
  • Theatre

The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh

14 - 19 March, 2011

Produced by Out of the Blue Theatre Company
In Tallaght Theatre

Directed by Sean Ronan

With: Anne-Marie Mooney, Suzanne Lakes, Darren Harris and Ronan Murphy