BWW Review: THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE, Tower Theatre
After staging three other plays by Martin McDonagh, Tower Theatre are now tackling the playwright's phenomenal first play, and start of the first of two trilogies, The Beauty Queen of Leenane. After premiering in Galway in 1996 it went on to have multiple transfers in London, a stint on Broadway, and to win a multitude of accolades.
It's since reached "classic" status, so the boots are hard to fill for the small Stoke Newington theatre. Colette Dockery directs a committed company who handles the text well, but the ultimate result is an unadventurous show that only stands on McDonagh's writing.
The play follows the dysfunctional relationship between Mag and her daughter Maureen, who's had to devote her time to care for her domineering mother. When the chance to find love knocks on her door, Mag becomes gradually more spiteful actively interfering in her Maureen's life to prevent her from achieving happiness. McDonagh analyses the toxic family ties with what's become his own brand of precision, but this production falls short and doesn't keep up with the personality of the piece.
The major dissonance between scenes that envelop the characters in a pressure cooker and the overly long and lifeless scene changes alters the final product too much. Dockery approaches the contents with very traditional methods, using static lighting design (Alan Wilkinson) and a very naturalistic set (Phillip Ley). Blackouts precede the changes and dissipate everything that the cast built in the previous scene, failing to deliver the story in an accomplished pace.
The script alone saves the performances. Julia Flatley is Maureen and Amanda Waggott is Mag; they jump straight into their characters' psychological abuse, taking no prisoners and willingly hurting each other. While Flatley is great at victimising the 40-year-old, Waggott turns Mag into a bona fide villainous elderly lady.
Their male counterparts aren't as quick: Nick Cannon's performance sobers up only when his character does, and Simon Brooke's truly comes together after the initial couple of scenes. When the latter finds his feet, however, he steals any given scene with pristine physicality and comedic timing.
Although this is an unfortunate production in terms of visuals and pace, it shows all the strengths of its core material. Dockery might need to tighten up her direction here and take some more risks, but it's clear that McDonagh's Beauty Queen is not a has-been yet.