Beauty Queen of Leenane
McDonagh is the Joe Orton of violence and depravity, continually
flirting with the borders of taste and shock while frequently being
laugh-out-loud funny in the process.
comedies that keep getting blacker and blacker, repeatedly startling
audiences who may just have gotten over the trauma of discovering how
disturbingly depraved his characters can be when they suddenly get a
whole lot weirder.
little that is visually disturbing happens in The Beauty Queen of
Leenane (unlike the Lieutenant of Inishmore, which at one point is
awash in stage blood), but if you don't want your worst fears about
just how nasty humans can get validated, this might not be the play for
the other hand,
the promise of having your worst fears validated, in a spirit of jolly
enjoyment, may be exactly what attracts you to this very dark comedy.
a tiny Irish
village live an old lady and the fortyish virgin daughter chosen by the
family to give up her own life to care for her. We first encounter them
bickering with the bitterness-mixed-with-boredom that comes from having
played out every argument a hundred times before, or scoring small
points off each other in ways (mother demanding to be served things
she's perfectly capable of getting for herself, daughter deliberately
leaving lumps in the porridge) that the victim can almost salute while
keeping mental score.
just as we've
settled in to enjoying these harmless rituals, things get nastier.
Mother withholds an invitation to a rare party from daughter, daughter
rubs mother's nose in her own rare sexual activity, mother counters
with something truly cruel, daughter parries. And as the audience gasps
at each new atrocity, the two characters come closer and closer to the
line separating anger from real insanity - and perhaps even cross it.
that is actually very funny, even while it is being shocking and scary
- that's what McDonagh is all about.
first thought on
seeing Ultz's set for this Young Vic revival was that it was too big
and clean for the claustrophobic quality the play wants. But the
designer and director Joe Hill-Gibbins knew what they were doing,
lulling us into a false sense that this was going to be a safely
light-hearted comedy, so the journey into the heart of darkness is all
the more disturbing.
knows the old lady inside and out, and can make the smallest gesture or
flick of the eyes tell volumes about her neediness and malice, while
also keeping her human enough that she never quite loses all our
the daughter on a different arc, from appearing the wholly sympathetic
victim, through ups and downs of hope and despair, to something awfully
close to true madness.
a local ageing
bachelor who improbably pays court to the daughter, David Ganly lets us
see past the man's crudeness and awkwardness to discover one of
nature's born gentlemen, while Terence Keeley nicely fleshes out a
local lad blessedly blind to the dramas and melodramas around him.
the best of
Orton, The Beauty Queen of Leenane makes you feel vaguely naughty to be
enjoying yourself - but naughtiness can be a lot of fun.
The only footnote to add to the 2011 revival is that a mainly
cast - Derbhle Crotty as the daughter, Frank Laverty as the suitor and
Johnny Ward as the boy - are at least as fine as the originals, while
Rosaleen Linehan remains an evil delight as the mother, so that the
play's power, both comic and horrific, is undeminished.
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- Beauty Queen of Leenane - Young Vic 2010