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Theatre Review: The Beauty Queen of Leenane ****

Yvonne Paterson reviews a 'wonderful revival' of a 'must-see production that is as relevant today as it was when it was first written'.

Scotland’s biggest touring theatre company, Rapture Theatre, presented its production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane at the Brunton Theatre in Musselburgh last Saturday (September 17th). The play focuses on the relationship between Mag, a possessive, manipulative old woman, and her daughter Maureen, a 40-year-old virgin who dreams of escape from her isolation and endless pandering to her mother’s demands and needs.

The discontented Maureen is full of resentment and disgust towards her mother and longs for “anything…anything other than this” and finds ways to torment her mother to gain small wins: buying Kimberly biscuits knowing full well Mag dislikes them, or teasing her that she dreams of the day she is looking at her mother in her coffin: her pettiness is almost understandable and somewhat forgivable—until her more sadistic side is brought to light, blurring the lines as to who the victim is or has been.

Julie Hale in the role as Maureen is fantastic. She absolutely gets the complexity of the character: from the minute she enters you feel her resentment and bitterness—her lines are delivered with frustration that have you surmise her suffering of being isolated and blaming her mother for the life she is living.

Nuala Walsh is wonderful in the role as Mag, capturing the ditty old lady who could probably do more for herself than she lets on. You find yourself being both sympathetic and frustrated at her, sharing in her daughter’s despair as she ignores hygiene—tipping her bed pan every morning into the kitchen sink—and appalled at her scheming, selfish ways as she does all she can to keep Maureen to herself. Walsh brings an edge to the character, making her both likeable and equally deplorable.

Paul Carroll, in the role of Pato, gives an engaging performance, bringing an air of charisma and charm. There is something very genuine about Carroll’s performance as he brings warmth to the character and is wonderfully funny as he tries to navigate his way through being caught in the crossfire between the two women after having spent the night with Maureen.

Ian O’Reilly is fantastically comical in the role of Ray, a character whose purpose is mainly to help move the plot along. However, O’Reilly has a knack for making his presence much more than that, delivering his lines with wit—meaning you can’t help but laugh at his quips.

Director Lyn McAndrew sets a subdued and sombre tone throughout the performance, which is complemented by Ken Harrison’s set design: the shabby kitchen looks dated even for the 90’s and reflects how stuck and behind the times the women are. The gloomy tone works well in giving Martin McDough’s script the room it needs for the dark comedy to thrive.

Rapture Theatre's wonderful revival of the production calls to attention the issues of abuse and cruelty—issues that are not tied to one time or place—making it a must-see production that is as relevant today as it was when it was first written in 1996.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane tours Scotland until October 22nd. For tour details, go to Rapture Theatre’s website.

Tags: theatre

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