Review – The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Young Vic

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Picture it. Two very troubled people, interdependent and inseparable due to circumstance; one is very old, extremely crotchety and makes the other one’s life hell.

But how much is the careworn younger one culpable for the older person’s distress? What is behind this ghastly symbiotic relationship of psychological cruelty. Why can’t they live together? Why daren’t they exist apart.

Goodness! Who’d have thought there’d be so many parallels between the characters in Martin McDonagh‘s* exceedingly black comedy The Beauty Queen of Leenane (newly revived at the Young Vic) and the Whingers’ own peculiar arrangement. The only immediate difference being that the Whingers, thankfully, were never umbilically connected.

Oh, and that Phil doesn’t eat Complan – but that can only be a matter of time.

Phil – who had seen and loved the original London production of TBQOL (yes, yet another example of the theatrical merry-go-round we’ve been banging on about of late) – dragged Andrew to the Young Vic to experience the last production there where they would experience the horrors of its unreserved seating policy.**

Perhaps it was spotting this analogous relationship that prevented Andrew from immediately warming to mother and daughter, Mag and Maureen, living in rural Leenane in Ireland. Maureen is forty-something, has little to no experience with men (no comment) and any chances of finding love will be hampered by her extremely manipulative mother.

Mag demands Complan, stirred properly to avoid lumps, is fed Kimberley biscuits which she despises (no, we hadn’t heard of them either but apparently they’re “the legendary biscuits of the Emerald Isle”. Legendary? Don’t they have Jammie Dodgers in Ireland?).

There’s a terrible smell emanating from the sink in their squalid kitchen (with a nice eye for realism and detail from designer Ultz, giving him a full pardon for Annie Get Your Gun) as Mag has a urinary infection and empties her chamber pot into it. Pato Dooley (David Ganly) turns up offering Maureen a last chance of romance and escape.

Phil, fortunately, could remember little of the original production apart from Anna Manahan‘s extraordinary performance as Mag, so the extreme events that follow came as a complete surprise to him. Let’s just say they turn even darker. To reveal more would be unfair.

But what we can say is it’s very, very funny, contains McDonagh’s usual shock tactics and is superbly performed by the cast of four. The dialogue is effective in its apparent simplicity and for once the whole Oirishness of it adds rather than detracts. Oh, and if you get slightly damp as you enter the auditorium you can be thankful it’s nothing to do with the contents of Mag’s chamber pot.

Rosaleen Linehan‘s Mag is enjoyably curmudgeonly and she does some rather brilliant work with her eyes, so get in line early for the scrabble for seats and sit as close to the corner as you can. The relationship between her and Susan Lynch‘s also excellent Maureen is kept nicely ambiguous. Just how much is Maureen a victim of this terrible harridan?

Terence Keeley’s Ray makes a terrific impression as Pato’s agitated younger brother while Ganly is extremely well-suited to be Maureen’s would-be suitor. He’s especially effective in his Act 2 opening monologue. Joe Hill-Gibbins‘s production kept us gripped: the audience’s gasps at some of the horrors and the wild applause at the end spoke volumes.

The Whingers emerged suitably entertained. Andrew went off in search of Complan and Kimberley biscuits. Phil headed home to throw some bleach down his kitchen sink.


* McDonagh was only 25 when he wrote The Beauty Queen of Leenane. Now that’s shocking.

** Despite their official denials three months ago, the Young Vic has apparently caved in to common sense. This is the last production in the Young Vic’s main house where you will experience the horrors of unreserved seating. But just to test it the Whingers have been attempting to book for upcoming shows just to see how it works. It still tells you that you are booking unreserved seats but states:

“We’re still finalising the seating plans for The Glass Menagerie and Vernon God Little – so if you’ve booked for either of these shows, we’ll put you into the best available seats and confirm this by e-mail very soon. Once we’ve done this, you can then choose to change them if you’d like.”

Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill. Rest assured we shall be experimenting with this and reporting back.


18 Responses to “Review – The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Young Vic”

  1. Glen Says:

    The Young Vic reserved seating seems to be working well for the shows they already know the layout for. Booked for Faust and very easy to select your own seat

  2. A Clown Says:

    As Glen points out, two of the four shows in the main house have their seating layouts sorted, two of them don’t as of yet. It seems a little uncharitable not to acknowledge this: indeed the National have done the same post-booking allocation into seats for both Earthquakes in London and Or You Could Kiss Me

    • Uncharitable? Us? No, just ignorant. We applaud all steps towards comprehensive allocated seating no matter how faltering. You raise an interesting point about the NT who it seems may actually be moving in the wrong direction. I don’t remember them ever doing this before.

  3. webcowgirl Says:

    Ooh, very nice job of keeping the show’s secrets, gentleman!

  4. PKelly Says:

    You know, guys, there are WORSE things in the world than unreserved seating……

  5. EMcD Says:

    Went to see the BQOL on Monday night, one of the preview nights. There was so much I loved about the performance. The rain effect really set the scene of the west of ireland, you could feel the damp in the air. The unfaltering Rosaleen Linehan was powerful and compelling to watch and how she drew the audience in was fantastic, the audience accepted the performance like we were sitting in their front room. I didn’t like the anger that came from Ray and Maureen. I liked Pato but I felt his monologue could have been delivered in a better way, I think that was a director’s and not the actor’s issue. All the same, this is not a play to be missed. It scores an 8.5 out of 10 for me.

  6. Andrew Says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this – I also saw the preview on Monday night. Like the Whingers, I saw the original production and I think this one definitely has the edge. Certain parts were far more convincingly handled (you’ll know which bits I mean once you’ve seen it) and I thought all the performances were top-notch. Full marks to Ultz for the set, too.

    (Oddly, the people behind me thought that the play was set in the sixties. I guess they were going by the picture of the Kennedys over the fireplace. Didn’t they see the cordelss kettle?!)

  7. Michael Says:

    I loved the show, but I am still intrigued as to why ,as far as I could hear, the father was never mentioned.

  8. Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

    Maria who is seeing the show tonight reports (and sang the jingle for me):

    “Kimberley biscuits ARE an Irish legend (gingery, marshmallow, with a strange squidgy yet stale texture) – but I prefer Mikado (pink marshmallow and jam dusted with coconut – the biscuit base is a bit horrid and soft rather than crisp, so the trick is to Hoover off the topping – yum!).
    You just have to singalong to the advertising jingle:
    “Kimberley, Mikado and Coconut Cream, someone you love would love some, Mum!”

    • Ian Shuttleworth Says:

      Ah, I was just about to report the same jingle! It was used on commercials that deployed personifications of the three biccies in question – at first puppets, as I recall, later cartoon animations. Kimberley was a grizzled Western oldtimer, somewhere between Yosemite Sam and Glen Baxter’s Mrs Botham ; Mikado, unsurprisingly, was a Mikado; and Coconut Cream was probably meant to look continental and sumptuously decadent but really more resembled one of the women of negotiable affection that Kimberley would encounter in the Last Chance Saloon.

  9. Ian Shuttleworth Says:

    So I gather.

  10. Denis Says:

    I saw this this week and its terrific. Rosaleen Linehan is just brilliant.

    You can sometimes find Kimberley biscuits in Poundland (i’m told, ahem) along with their sisters Mikado’s and Coconut Creams and they sell them in some Asda’s and online from Asda too. They are a very odd, gingery and sugary biscuit encased in soft biscuit… Mikados are nicer. Coconut Creams are quite nice. There is a deluxe chocolate covered Mikado, but thats just weird.

  11. Denis Says:

    Sorry, got carried away, there is a chocolated covered version of the Kimberely. Still wierd.

  12. Thomas Says:

    It is superb, but why, contrary to the script, put Susan Lynch in a slinky satin nightdress? Her youth and beauty need to be toned down, not played up.

    And the audience were a bit gauche – oohing and aahing. Wonder how they are marketing the show?

  13. David Says:

    I rather enjoyed the oohing and aahing of last night’s audience. People were really drawn in and reacting in a visceral way. And why not – it was absolutely brilliant! All the actors were perfect.

  14. WordShock Says:

    Perhaps I am biased but I think it is a shame that the Young Vic is changing to a reserved house. But I guess it works out in your interest with more tickets for cheaper prices.

    “The horrors of unreserved seating” a bit harsh a statement. Tell me this, when you entered the auditorium to see The Beauty Queen of Leenane was there any seat that you could see that had a bad view? The ethos of the Young Vic has always been about being classless. It is true that if you show up late you’ll have less choice. But if you book late, you have less choice. What the Young Vic has done for years is had a set price that is affordable and not allocated what some people may interpret as the best seats for those with higher incomes.

    Anywho, I loved Beauty Queen. I do Wish less people laughed during the torture scene but I guess it was laughter out of feeling uncomfortable.

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