Review: Beauty Queen of Leenane

William Gilsenan reviews the UCD Dramsoc's flagship show: Beauty Queen of Leenane. Photo credit: Alex Fagan  Dramsoc kicked off the new year with what was a sure favourite for some, The Beauty Queen of Leenane; the play that introduced Martin McDonough to the world. The popular production has been directed Colin Doran, who gets incredible performances on the opening night of September 27th.The scenes never leave the kitchen of Maureen Folan, played with range by Laura Fleming, the titular Beauty Queen who is charged with the vocation of looking after her monstrous mother. Even that would be an understatement, as we observe only a few lines into Act One that we are witnessing a relationship of mutual domestic abuse.Leanne Bergin fabulously plays the thankless role of Maureen’s mother Mag, her head ceaselessly lolling in rotten neediness and distracting us from the true antagonist. Maureen, now in her early forties has been imprisoned by bitter duty, and Leenane and its inhabitants only serve as an echo chamber to remind her. The foreboding interludes between scenes suggest something bleak is brewing.
The foreboding interludes between scenes suggest something bleak is brewing.
Following in the tradition of the lyrical Irish dialect of Synge before him, McDonough’s play somewhat lacks the subtlety that is found in the former’s work. This West is borrowed for kitsch, however the humour realised exceeds in outrageous fashion by any right; the players talk a lot, but don’t say much. It can’t be denied though that it has rhythm, and in comes Ray (hilariously played by Johnjoe Irwin) assured in non-talk, who can’t stand Mag’s company, yet is indulgent when it comes to village hearsay.Ray’s older brother Pato, the unlikely smooth-talking local lad played by Daniel O’Sullivan, offers Maureen a last chance escape from her life, and the question is; what will it cost her? O’Sullivan and Fleming are exceptional in their fanciful scene together, reacting seamlessly off each other and making great use of the stage.The play employs the Mundane as a counterpoint to the inevitable violence that ensues, and that tension between the two is ever present by the time Maureen takes her mother’s rocking chair. When it explodes, it’s gratifying, but the true pay-offs here are the quiet moments that simmer, and let the audience do the work.I normally say these scripts are litmus tests for In Your Face theatre, but the intimate moments tare so superbly tight, (particularly in Act Three) that I must give this play high praise. This was an enthralling production, and my only regret is that it didn’t run longer.