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Like love and hate, there is a fine line between madness and sanity

Review: The Beauty Queen of Leenane at the Baxter

A family drama from a different time, in a faraway place, that seems often to be happening at the very edge of reason, is brought to life, made relevant even, by the most extraordinary performances.

Jennifer Steyn and Sven Ruygrok in The Beauty Queen of Leenane. Photographs: Claude Barnardo

Truth be told, we went to see Jennifer Steyn – who plays Mag, the tragically wicked mother – and were richly rewarded for that excellent choice. We will now be seeking out shows that feature her fellow cast members too: Julie-Anne McDowell (Maureen), Bryan Hiles (Pato) and Sven Ruygrok (Ray).

Mothers and daughters, love and hate, madness and sanity … it’s not easy to select the main theme in this gripping tale of vulnerability and villainy in a family. A story so extreme and dramatic in parts that I would hardly believe it in the telling, but it had us wincing at every insult, almost tasting every sweet bite of hope.

The mundane details of life – cups of tea, favourite biscuits, a new dress – play out against a stifling undercurrent of the life of a daughter trapped as caretaker of her mother, who has turned mean and seems to be losing it a little. Or maybe the daughter is the one losing it…

The brothers, Ray and Pato, bring some darkly comedic respite from the fast-deteriorating relationship between mother and daughter. But soon the lightness they introduce seems only to make the shadows longer.

The line between sanity and madness, like love and hate, is paper thin. And nowhere is it better illustrated than in the supposed sanctity of family.

Julie-Anne McDowell and Bryan Hiles

A subplot around the horror inflicted on the Irish by the English gives a small lesson in history that is not that well-known in these parts. It also provides another view of the bitterness and the pain being played out on stage.

The Irish accents are consistent and compelling, a nice little bonus for those of us who love them (the accents and the people, that is).  Ed’s note: A little leprechaun told me that Julie-Anne is actually Irish. Well done to her for being Irish and to the others for doing a fecking great job of sounding Irish.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane, by the acclaimed Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, is on at the Baxter Theatre until August 19. It is one of those rare treats that comes along only so often and shows the unifying art of excellent storytelling. It is a must-see for those who appreciate great acting and superb theatre-craft.

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11th August 2023 9:08 am

Excellent synopsis (but must say was an uneasy watch – left drained and feeling rather unsettled – not many I know would want to go)

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