The Beauty Queen of Leenane (4 stars)

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The Beauty Queen of Leenane

The Beauty Queen of Leenane

Martin McDonagh’s 1996 play is one of those unsettling works that leads its audience down one path, and then gleefully turns our expectations upside-down. The milieu of the play, being set in the dingy kitchen of a house in a west of Ireland rural backwater, and the dysfunctional relationship between monstrous matriarch Mag Folan and her daughter Maureen, recalls the social realist tragicomedy of sitcoms such as Steptoe and Son. Here mother and daughter’s earthy, repetitive sparring lifts the lid on the daughter’s dreams of escape, and her mother’s terror of being placed in a home.

The first act is driven by the possibility of love between Maureen and gentle, kindly Pato Dooley, at home from London for a brief visit, and Mag’s determination to wreck her daughter’s chances. We arrive at the end of the first act firmly rooting for Maureen and Pato – but then the piece takes an unexpected and much darker turn.

What’s remarkable about McDonagh’s play is the way it wrong-foots its audience, shifting our sympathies in the process. The playwright harnesses the west of Ireland dialect to great comic effect, but the four-strong cast brings an integrity to the roles that elevate them above the merely grotesque, Cara Kelly being particularly believable as the spinster daughter pushed to the edge of reason by her domestic circumstances.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane

A twisted comedy about a mother and daughter stuck in a fraught relationship from the writer of 2008's dark film comedy, 'In Bruges', and directed by Tony Cownie. Post-show discussion on Tue 2 Mar.

Curtain Raisers: The Beauty Queen of Leenane

  • 4 stars

Go behind the story of the Lyceum's current production with a talk from theatre expert and historian Owen Dudley Edwards.

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