The Beauty Queen of Leenane

24 July 2010, Young Vic, London

There are two things that always sway what I think of a show: expectations and knowledge.

Expectations being what I’ve read and heard about the show – recommendations and reviews. Knowledge being actually whether I go into the show fully aware of the plot, the text etc. Sometimes I go to a show not knowing anything. In those cases – props to the venue! They have my full trust.

Anyway onto The Beauty Queen of Leenane. I’ve probably never watched a show where I’ve been so fully knowledgeable or couldn’t have had higher expectations for. I knew everything I could possibly know about the writer, the cast, the creative team… read the full script and all the reviews (this full combination never happens! And deliberately so – I find that I’m rarely satisfied when I go to a show having high expectations, which must be very common) And yet I came out of the theatre fully satisfied. It was an incredible performance. Particularly Rosaleen Linehan – she is amazing! One of theatre’s finest actresses.

I can only wonder what it was like for (and am slightly jealous of) those who walked in unaware and without expectations. The play is full of nuances and twists, ones that were deliberately not used to market the show. And rightly done so, as it helped enhance the experience. If an extra line was used in the marketing copy along the lines of ‘an unexpected ending’, ‘a final twist’… that would’ve completed changed what people would expect and experience. But then again, quite a few people know the play and have been quite vocal at declaring how much they love the play.

I don’t really particularly enjoy reading plays and rarely actively decide to read them. Even with this one I thought it was a good read but I didn’t finish and go ‘ah, that was amazing’. I think it’s because without the adjectives and full descriptions of what people are thinking (like in novels), I struggle to imagine and realize everything, and struggle to fully interpret the intonations and how speech should be delivered. For example for this play, everyone was like the text is so funny! Okay it was kinda funny but not so funny for that to be the primary description. But when it was acted out, it really was funny in many places I didn’t even read into the humour of. So yes I think watching movie and play adaptions are the way to go. Oh dear, so much to learn.

The play is written by the Oscar and BAFTA-winning Martin McDonagh, writer and director of the hit cult film In Bruges. Apparently he wrote it in eight days. It really was so cleverly realized. The set comprised an Irish cottage and raining walls – conjuring the image of a gloomy rainy Ireland. Plus the audience had the treat of seeing ‘behind’ the scenes, as they had to walk behind the raining walls to get into the auditorium.

I was discussing with a colleague who thought the ending wasn’t very satisfying – he thought perhaps Maureen killing Ray at the end would’ve had a higher impact. But I liked the more subtle ending and in fact the powerfulness of it was because it was so subtle. The fact that she assumes Mag’s role and character she just can’t escape her past, what she hated the most about her mother and her destiny. Surely being entrapped in this vicious cycle is more punishing.

Everyone stepped out of the theatre a little shellshocked. It’s the kinda the show where, even a few days after, you are thinking about it. Go see the show! Hope I haven’t ruined it too much for you. 🙂


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