The Beauty Queen of Leenane

by Martin MacDonagh

Performed in the Unicorn Theatre 31 March - 3 April

An Excellent all-round performance

The Beauty Queen of Leenane, staged last week by members of the Abingdon Drama Club at the Unicorn Theatre, Abingdon, is the first play in a trilogy by the young London Irish playwright Martin McDonagh.

Leenane is a small town in the west of Ireland, depicted as a benighted, backward place whose natives yearn for escape. The action centres on the blackly comic relationship between Maureen, a frighteningly naive spinster in her forties, played with great style and intelligence by Colette Lardner-Browne, and her mother Mag; Anne Hall maintains a delicate balance between the old woman's manipulative nastiness and her poignant senility. Their relationship is exploitative and abusive, the audience remaining uncertain almost throughout as to who is the victim, and who the tormentor.

Into this doomed situation wanders Christopher Kendrick's Pato Dooley, almost stealing the show with his gentle decency and inarticulate eloquence. Pato offers Maureen the chance of escape from Leenane, and it isn't until the final twist in the plot that we learn what the future has in store for her. The aimless, barely-contained violence of Pato's brother Ray, convincingly portrayed by Damian Ryan, sets off the play's sinister sub-text of idle cruelty.

Abingdon Drama Club is to be congratulated on their success in putting on this ambitious and unsettling play by a controversial dramatist. The production -from the Irish accents to the immaculately authentic set, even down to the Irish groceries - is outstandingly good.

Heather O'Donoghue - Abingdon Herald - 8/4/04

"Connemara is a savage beauty"

So said Oscar Wilde. The strikingly beautiful village of Leenane is often described as the "Gateway to Connemara".

It is here that Martin McDonagh's extraordinary play The Beauty Queen of Leenane is set. It is a savage beauty of a play.

Martin McDonagh does not claim much knowledge of classic English or Irish plays, although he has been frequently compared with John Millington Synge and Sean O'Casey. His language in Beauty Queen of Leenane is very much in the same vein as the language Synge created in The Playboy of the Western World .Like Synge he did not live in the west but as a visitor listened to the daily speech of people remote from the city.

The plot is primarily about the relationship between a mother and a daughter in this isolated part of Ireland. It is a deeply disturbing play. Abingdon Drama Club takes up the challenge of this play with its alarming blend of hysterical comedy, grand melodrama, horrifying violence and bleak tragedy. Maureen is the daughter left at home to manager her mother. Two sisters of Maureen have escaped into marriage and family life, but Maureen with a history of mental illness is trapped in a small bleak cottage and in an overtly dependent seriously dysfunctional relationship with her mother.

The Mother, Mag Folan, (Anne Hall) is a hypochondriac and abuses the daughter to a point where the daughter, Maureen (Colette Lardner-Browne) has become bitter and neurotic. Together they have formed a co-dependent and depressing sado-masochistic relationship. Maureen has a chance of normalcy when she runs into Pato Dooley (Christopher Kendrick) a normal stable local who becomes enamoured of her. However Mag steps in and subverts their growing relationship, driving Maureen to insanity, and at the close of the play Maureen steps into the rocking chair, an image of her mother.

The four actors handled the accents wonderfully. They did an admirable job of embracing and embodying the spoken language with its rhythms and sounds, thanks I guess to the expert coaching of Colette.

Maureen's hopes for life, portrayed with great sensitivity and understanding by Colette, drip away with every mug of tea, every bowl of Complan she has to make for her mother, in a kitchen that stinks, thanks to her mother's habit of emptying her chamber pot into the sink every morning. In her portrayal of Maureen, Colette reveals a lifetime of coping with a mother from hell. When Pato arrives on the scene she at last begins to think of escape and that another life really can exist.

Colette is perfect in the pivotal role of Maureen. At times she can look quite lovely or quite plain. She is an actress who conveys character with all the tools at her disposal - voice, body and face. During the first part of the play she became increasingly more beautiful, and then faded back into faceless defeat by the end of the play.

Anne Hall does a fine job as the elderly, crotchety Mag. There was a ritual she developed when she ate, the continual tasting and grimacing and wiping her mouth on her sleeve. Anne 's portrayal makes Maureen's situation immediately sympathetic to the audience. She portrays well the nagging, manipulative mother who puts her daughter through wrenching emotional degradation. With a twist of her head or a slight smile she steers between sweetness and a horrific version of a relentless hag, making such wide diversions absolutely believable.

In the course of the play the Folan cottage is visited by the brothers Ray and Pato Dooley. It is impossible not to like the performances of the two men in the production.

Ray is played as an irrepressible and irresponsible young man. Damian Ryan is splendid in his rendition of the non threatening "bad boy". He is unsure of where he is going but wants to get out of Ireland. Damian plays the part with no patience, but a love of Kimberley cookies, which everyone hates. His impatience becomes critical to the story. Ray is so impatient to be gone from the boredom of the village that he's too impatient to wait to put Pato's letter into Maureen's hands.

To be sure, Damian is a great asset to Abingdon Drama Club.

Pato is played by Christopher Kendrick. Pato is a middle-aged construction worker fed up with having to live and work in England in order to earn a living wage. He has escaped to a land where "they don't care if you live or die'. On the other hand, in Leenane "You can't kick a cow without someone bearing a grudge twenty years". He is heartbreakingly real in this production. Pato was particularly effective during his monologue at the opening of Part Two. He does a fine job in springing Maureen out of her torment for a short period. He gently refers to Maureen as "The Beauty Queen of Leenane".

Malcolm Ross the Director of this production has contributed much to the Abingdon Drama Club over the years and has some nineteen distinguished productions to his credit. He can indeed be proud of The Beauty Queen of Leenane. The set design and lighting were excellent. The use of darkness and sound to signify certain events complemented the ambiguous nature of the mind that emotionally unstable people must endure. Right from the beginning we know that Maureen's relationship with Pato is doomed. Malcolm directs the piece in a compelling manner to its inevitable conclusion. He is greatly assisted by Eileen Bagshaw, Ruth Collins, Keith Hales, Lin Beekar and Lynne Smith, with lighting under the direction of Michael Ward

In some way the play is an old-fashioned melodrama; it has a clearly defined plot complete with a classic tumultuous mother-daughter relationship and last chance romance, and several smoking guns (a stove, poker, a letter read by the wrong person and a pair of rubber gloves). His brutal picture of a village where decency and familial affection are homeless is disturbingly moving, entertaining and funny.

At times the play is gut wrenching, it drags the audience into the psyche of the family, at times with humour and at other times with pain and violence, but always with the aim of understanding human nature and those who wrestle with its intricacies.

Robin Griffin


Flare Path
Wed 4th - Sat 7th July
Unicorn Theatre


Flare Path
Tues 17th April
The Clubhouse