The Beauty Queen Of Leenane

Martin McDonagh
Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke
(2005)

An arena resembling a boxing ring is the stage for John Adams's production of Martin McDonagh's The Beauty Queen Of Leenane, which concludes an Irish season at Basingstoke Haymarket Theatre.

Within this space, McDonough's two protagonists - elderly mother and fading daughter - slog it out for two hours, the end of a round indicated by the exit of one contestant or the other.

Occasionally the referee, or is it a trainer, intervenes in the person of local lad-about, Ray Dooley or his brother Pato, Pauline's last chance of losing the spinster's mantel.

With a name like his, McDonagh might be an authentic voice of the West of Ireland. Yet he was born in Camberwell and, by all accounts, has not interested himself greatly in the communities of London, let alone Connemara.

Whence, then, the authenticity of this play, first of a trilogy - unless of course it is from the players themselves whose own acquaintance with a wider circle is the real source of our entertainment?

Caroline John, as the bitter old woman whose increasing infirmity leaves her with only herself and her Complan to live for, is disturbingly believable. As the daughter whose commitment to the old crone has proved her undoing, Pauline O'Driscoll is superbly if no less alarming. Unlikely characters to be found in Camberwell, all the same.

It's not, of course, unusual to find actors doing their job, as with Pinter, yet it is common for writers to offer them a little more to play with. Perhaps designer Elroy Ashmore is trying to lift our spirits with his symbolic splitting of the stage at moments of particular trauma. If so, the result is counter-productive as it merely raises our concern for the players on a perilous surface.

Not that I was totally convinced by the report of a couple who approached the Haymarket bar in the interval to enquire," Will it be any funnier in the second half?" Anyone seeking a night of laughter who thinks a black comedy about a beauty queen will provide it probably deserves all he gets!

"The Beauty Queen Of Leenane" runs until 12 February.

Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole