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The Beauty Queen of Leenane

Martin McDonagh

A Theatre by the Lake production

Theatre by the Lake, Keswick

October 25-November 11, 2022; 2hr 20min

Susan Twist (left) and Elizabeth Appleby as Mag and Maureen in Theatre by the Lake's Beauty Queen of Leenane. All pics: The Other Richard
Susan Twist (left) and Elizabeth Appleby as Mag and Maureen in Theatre by the Lake's Beauty Queen of Leenane. All pics: The Other Richard

The well-made play and its audience are alive and well and living in Keswick. The full house at press night was so palpably involved that I thought that at The Beauty Queen of Leenane’s most suspenseful moment the characters were about to get urgent advice from the stalls.

Martin McDonagh, whose writing and directing credits include In Bruges, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri and the new film The Banshees of Inisherin, knows how to deploy tension, and this 1996 play shows this talent to the full.

The "beauty queen" is 40-year-old Maureen, left in a Connemara cottage to look after her aged mother, Mag. The two feud incessantly, with Mag insisting the kisses of the two men in Maureen’s life are more than enough; Maureen's retaliation being to make lumpy Complan and cold porridge for starters. Elizabeth Appleby realistically displays Maureen’s sexual frustration throughout, while threatening that it will boil over into real violence. McDonagh’s combination of rollicking humour and imminent threat is one of the fascinations of the play.

Matters reach their crisis when Maureen spends a night with Pato, a middle-aged former neighbour visiting from England. Pato, in a wonderful portrayal by Cillian Ὸ Gairbhi, first seems no more than a man who cannot keep his hands to himself, until he reveals so much more sensitivity in a letter he sends to Maureen – delivered as a powerful, moving, sometimes funny monologue at the start of the second half. It is the content, then fate, of this letter that is the motive force for the forward movement of the drama.

If there is a weakness in the play it probably resides in the lack of back-story for Mag. In Susan Twist’s performance she is a ghoul, though a comic one who pours the nightly contents of her chamber-pot down the kitchen sink. But she is little more than a caricature of mad old-age, exacerbated here by an unfortunate wig. It is a pity Ms Twist is not given more to go on in terms of explanation of what has brought her to this pass.

Directed clearly by Theatre by the Lake’s Artistic Director Liz Stevenson, this production is a substantial work and a real contribution to the theatre’s community.

Info and tickets here


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