Earlier this year I was graced with the opportunity to go and see The Hired Man, a co-production between Hull Truck and The Queens Theatre, Hornchurch. That show became my favourite production of the year due to its intense story, clever set design, and high quality of acting. So expectations were pretty high for Hull Truck and The Queens Theatre second lovechild, The Beauty Queen of Leenane. And sure enough, I came out of Hull Truck pretty satisfied with my evening of theatre. Here’s why…
Written by Martin McDonagh, The Beauty Queen of Leenane is a beguiling dark comedy about a complex, toxic, mother/daughter relationship. McDonagh has proven himself as a competent writer in the past years with the multi-award winning Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017). McDonagh doesn’t miss a beat within this script, with jokes flying out like cannon fire. He walks a fine line between uncomfortable, cringe, and pure comedy with all the jokes landing with the audience.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane boasts a four strong cast who captivates the audience in very different ways. Maggie McCarthy (Doctors, Call The Midwife, Coronation Street) is the centrepiece of the show, playing the petulant Mag, a chair-bound old woman who is waited on by her resentful daughter Maureen (Siobhan O’Kelly). These two play off each other beautifully and truly come off as mother and daughter. O’Kelly (Eastenders, Jack Taylor, Call The Midwife) conveys true displeasure with her mother, often snapping whit back at each demand Mag makes. These scenes build and build in tension, starting from very amusing to resoundingly uncomfortable, resulting in an ominous aura on the stage.
The two leads are only intervened by the presence of Nicholas Boulton’s Pato and Laurence Pybus’s Ray. Boulton (of Game of Thrones fame) comes across as a slick ladies-man, who ultimately takes the interest of Maureen. His monologue at the beginning of the second act showcases his class of acting and serves as a rewarding change of pace to the show. Pybus (Table, The Snow Queen, The Burial at Thebes) was a standout for me, producing impeccable levels of delivery matched with his comedic timing. The scenes between Ray and Mag were almost pantomime with one woman in the audience gasping at an almost-interaction between the characters.
The show is both comedic and comfortless, reeling in its audience with its charm, only to make them feel uneasy once they’re within its clutches. The set of the bomb-site home not only makes the audience feel like they’re peeping in on a private interactions, but represents the broken relationship between two twisted monsters who propel each other into darkness.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane is at Hull Truck Theatre until the 26th of October.