Review: The Beauty Queen of Leenane (The Gaiety)
Updated: Jun 10, 2022
“Stunning”. “Outstanding”. “Brilliant”. These are words that have thus far been used to describe “The Beauty Queen of Leenane”, and will continue to describe it until the final night which lies only a few nights away. I can now say that I, from my own personal perspective which is entirely my own personal opinion, can use a different word to describe it: disappointing. This came as a shock, having heard extensively of its praise and being a fan of Martin McDonagh’s work, yet I found I could not be entertained by it, and even as I left I was still haunted by a difficult and frustratingly unsatisfying question; why?
After all, there is much to be admired. Take the set, for example. Cluttered, perhaps, but that went only to show how much time forty-something Maureen (Ailsing O’Sullivan) and her dementingly pernickety mother Mag (Marie Mullen) have spent there, and the level of detail put in (from the cheap, old-fashioned salt and pepper shakers to the faded flooring around the kitchen from where Maureen has plodded back and forth to her mother’s every command) had to be admired. So it was with most areas of production, even the sound design I enjoyed, The Carpenters’ “Top of the World” during the memorable “oil scene” being a highlight.
There were moments of performance perfection from the show’s minimal cast. The tense anticipation as O’Sullivan pulled on a pair of marigolds without any explanation sent shivers down my spine, and Aaron Monaghan (as local man-boy Ray) gave us a moment of perfect comic timing as he produced a long-since stolen swing ball, the grudge evidently fresh in his mind. However, for every great moment, there was a bad one to counter it. Monaghan’s performance was a tad overdone, beyond the point of believability, for example as he quite forcedly pretends to fence using a fire poker. I also found that, as soon as the anticipation passed, the actual “shocking” moment of, well, torture, was a massive anti-climax.
It’s worth mentioning I do not blame Mullen for this, in fact, I thought she gave the strongest performance of the night. I blame the director, Garry Hynes. She played it safe, avoiding any real depth to the pain or anguish from Mag, in an attempt to make the next line funny through juxtaposition. It worked, but at the expense of shocking me, something I value far more than trying to squeeze in another funny line. I felt that was the attitude towards violence in general in this production. Too safe. Martin McDonagh once commented that “Theatre is never going to be edgy in the way I want it to be”, and from seeing this you can see why.
Indeed, it seems the overall tone was and remains somewhat undecided, which for me made it unengaging. I am reliably informed that this is the tone of conversation of rural Irish folk, and I don’t pretend for one moment to be this show’s intended audience. I can only report on what I know of my own experience; I could not care about the next line, or the next twist. The tone did not allow for it.
The production itself was otherwise remarkably unremarkable. It was simply conventional, taking the essentials of the script and placing it in the expected setting, with the expected portrayals, and the expected visuals. No visual metaphors or ingenious use of lighting, just the standard, almost like a drama examination in a way. Conventional done to a high standard, make no mistake, but conventional none the less, and when that is combined with a bland tone it leaves me high and dry in terms of theatrical satisfaction and investment.
I think this has to be one of my shortest reviews thus far. This is, of course, influenced by the fact that I am writing this at an unreasonable hour with limited time available to me, but also by the fact that it didn’t have a big impact on me. It was passive, unentertaining, quality theatre that has left no mark upon me. I had hoped for more. Two stars.