Beauty Queen of Leenane

Rating ***
Reviewed by Verity Wilde

Curve Leicester, 22nd October 2013

Leicester Curve’s 5th birthday season continues with Martin McDonagh’s Beauty Queen of Leenane.

Maureen Folan is a 40 year old virgin, stuck living with her demanding and manipulative mother, Mags, in the wilds of western Ireland. Maureen tries to grasp her last chance at love – with disturbing results. Even as you laugh at the black comedy at the start, you know that by the end none of it will seem quite so funny.

Maureen is the centre of the play – her hopes of escape are raised, but you know that it’s not going to end well. My partner and I argued the whole way home and still couldn’t come to an agreement on Michele Moran’s portrayal of Maureen. I thought her performance gave subtle clues to her later behaviour, he found that some of the plot developments came out of the blue.

What we did agree on was that it was hard to sympathise with the characters, although the actors, under the direction of Paul Kerryson, are certainly giving it their all. You’d expect to feel sympathy – I think most people know an elderly person who is capable of driving them to distraction after 20 minutes of close contact and Nora Connolly’s Mags would definitely drive you over the edge if you were trapped in a room with her for a day – let alone for years and Maureen’s history of mental illness does not come as a surprise!

Stephen Hogan’s Pato is the most sympathetic of the four and you believe he is interested in Maureen, although you soon realise that he’s not a strong enough character to get her out of Leenane. Andrew Macklin’s Ray is recognisable as the sort of desperate, bored young man you might have found in mid-nineties rural Ireland – all seething resentment and shell suit. But I felt very detached from all of them, despite the claustrophobic set and atmospheric sound design in the Curve studio.

But this play is all about the women and Moran and Connolly were very good, their scenes together zip along as the two women take delight in goading and baiting each other. In the first act I wished that someone had come in to help Maureen, but midway through the second act it was Mags that I was worried about. The violence, when it comes, is if anything underplayed. I can’t say more without giving away the plot, but when hot oil is involved, I expect louder screams!

This is not an uplifting play but it was an interesting one. If you judge a play on the debate it inspires, then this production is a success – witness the 40 minute discussion in our car!

I found it hard to find any real affection for the country that was being written about within the piece and the characters were hard to connect to but overall it was any enjoyable show.