book (play script) review: The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh



originally published 1996


This was my sixth Martin McDonagh play and actually my third and final read from his Leenane trilogy (despite it being the first Leenane installment – but these plays are only very loosely connected and you do not need to read them in order). Here I was thinking that McDonagh couldn’t possibly shock me any more than he has in the past – I do consider myself familiar enough with his style of black comedy that my continued reading of his plays has more to do with their comfortable familiarity than with unearthing a facet of his writing that I feel I haven’t already uncovered.

But what I hadn’t counted on with The Beauty Queen of Leenane was how immeasurably sad it was going to be. For once McDonagh’s characters aren’t memorable for their immorality as much as for how pitiable they are, and though the dialogue is as sharp and irreverent as ever, the humor in this one doesn’t hit its mark quite as much as the more somber undercurrents do. Isolation, wasted youth, mental illness, and domestic claustrophobia are all at the heart of this deceptively dark story about an elderly mother and middle aged daughter living in a cottage together in rural Ireland. I think it shows that this is McDonagh’s first play – his craft of dark comedy doesn’t feel sufficiently honed and there are some dissonant elements that don’t fully come together, but my god is this haunting.

8 thoughts on “book (play script) review: The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh

    • I feel like this one is kind of similar to The Cripple of Inishmaan but maybe even more twisted? I was just shocked by how dark this went. Not that I’m complaining – that ending and these characters will certainly stay with me.


      • The Pillowman is my favorite as well! Ugh, I know, I saw that 😦 I do think the way he tries to incorporate race into his narratives is a weak point for him and I wish he’d actually listen to the critics where that’s concerned. A Behanding in Spokane is one of the few I haven’t read yet but I get the impression that flippant jokes about race were that play’s main failing as well. But I think he’s such a talented playwright and when he’s good he’s really really great.


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