The Beauty Queen of Leenane
‘Someone said to me once that Ireland just skipped the 20th century and went from the 19th to the 21st,’ muses Scottish-born, Irish-bred actress Cara Kelly when asked about the ‘Irishness’ of her current role, in Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane. And while generational differences have been the source of frustration and amusement the world over since time immemorial, there’s no denying that the play’s setting in remote, rural County Galway at the turn of the millennium can only have made those differences more marked.
McDonagh’s debut, showered with awards when it was first performed in 1996, tells the story of a 40-year-old spinster, Maureen (played by Kelly), stuck in a life of subservience and bickering with her manipulative old mother, Mag, and ready to jump at a chance for love and freedom. With an accuracy that Kelly can only put down to a ‘profound talent’, McDonagh wrote these mature female characters as a 25-year-old man.
Known for combining black humour with a real brutality and violence of both the physical and emotional variety, McDonagh (who also wrote and directed 2008 film In Bruges) certainly doesn’t make it easy for his leading lady: the cast have been struggling to keep straight faces at times in rehearsals and the challenge for Kelly is to carry a tragic story through the laughter. But the task is a welcome one: ‘[The play] is so rich and multi-layered as well, so it doesn’t make it easier, but it’s a different challenge and it’s a challenge I much prefer.’
Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, Fri 19 Feb–Sat 13 Mar