The Beauty Queen of Leenane
By Martin McDonagh
Sydney Theatre Company
The Wharf, Sydney
Until September 4
Review by Brendan Doyle
On Broadway it was the season's most acclaimed new play, where it won four Tony awards and several others. This alone made it eminently marketable here, where Sydney Theatre Company (STC) audiences gobble up anything that has succeeded in New York.
So, with a sure-fire money spinner (with the added attraction of being Irish) and ready-made audiences, why does the STC still find it necessary to charge $48 a ticket? I'm letting you know the price because the theatre listing coyly doesn't mention it, and I didn't want you to choke on the phone when you enquire.
We're not talking a big cast here (four local actors), or a huge production. At $48, the STC is putting itself out of reach of most theatre lovers, including your reviewer. And that's shameful for a publicly subsidised theatre company.
Now, is it worth the money? No.
Young Martin McDonagh has talent, as this, his first play, shows. He has a flair for everyday conversation, a feel for black comedy, a good sense of plot and structure, and can create lovable and detestable characters.
In a village in Galway that is blighted by ignorance, spite and boredom, 40-year-old Maureen (Pamela Rabe) is trapped into looking after her manipulative, cranky mother Meg (Maggie Kirkpatrick). Meg uses guilt to make sure her daughter won't leave her, and even burns her mail, including an offer of escape to the United States from Pato, an all-too-rare suitor.
In the end Meg goes too far and the frustrated Maureen, called the Beauty Queen by Pato in a drunken moment, wreaks a terrible revenge.
Amidst the pathos there are plenty of funny moments. McDonagh has written an entertaining crowd-pleaser, well served in this production by good acting and sure direction. But it doesn't reveal anything new about Irishness or the human spirit.
The play is curiously old-fashioned, both thematically and stylistically, for a playwright in his late twenties. Another example of the nostalgia that seems to be gripping late millennial cultural activity?