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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Beauty Queen of Leenane, theatre review

Published in The Guardian

The Beauty Queen of Leenane

Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh
4 out of 5

What you notice about the audience for The Beauty Queen of Leenane is how ­vocal it is. No surprise that people laugh at the jokes, of course. Martin ­McDonagh's writing sparkles with ­deadpan irony as he tells the tale of Maureen Folan, a 40-year-old woman trapped by her ­cantankerous old mother, Mag, into a life of barren ­inertia. The dialogue is as funny as the situation is bleak.

Less expected is the reaction to the story itself. More than once the plot twists produce gasps from the stalls – all the more surprising given that the playwright's technique is straight out of melodrama. His play had its premiere in 1996, but audiences in 1896 would have recognised a storyline in which the heroine fails to receive a crucial letter, and the baddie gets her comeuppance in a scene of sensational violence.

So what is it about this play that so convincingly persuades us of its ­vitality? It is partly that McDonagh knows exactly what conventions he is using, just as he deals consciously with the established themes of Irish drama, from language, exile and religion. His speech patterns owe a debt to JM Synge, his ­questions of emigration recall the plays of Tom ­Murphy and Brian Friel, and the relationship of cruel co-dependency between mother and daughter is like that of Hamm and Clov in Beckett's Endgame.

You could go further, and see Mag Folan as a symbol of Ireland itself, a pre-tiger economy figure of ­repression, denying the next generation its sexual freedom, forcing on it a choice to flee or stagnate. Maureen's tragedy has as much to do with the age-old allure of England and the US as it does with the stultifying atmosphere of her mother's kitchen.

But none of that is what makes an audience draw breath. This is created by McDonagh's skill as a storyteller, the unsentimental drawing of his ­characters and his ability to make us empathise with Maureen's dilemma. In this, much credit must also go to a ­flawless cast in Tony Cownie's finely judged ­production. We long for every moment of Cara Kelly's time on stage, so ­compelling is she as Maureen. ­Playing the script with a musician's ear for incidental detail, she is waspish, witty, passionate and vulnerable. We are no less delighted to be in the company of Nora Connolly's ­manipulative Mag, John Kazek's Pato and Dylan Kennedy's Ray, each helping the pot-boiler plot to catch us unawares.
Until 13 March. Box office: 0131-248 4848.

© Mark Fisher 2010

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