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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Theatre review: The Beauty Queen of Leenane is a gripping (yet hopeless) tale

What dreams do we give up and what does it mean to live a happy life?

Ensemble Theatre Company’s 6th annual Repertory Festival features Martin McDonagh’s Tony Award-winning play, The Beauty Queen of Leenane. This one does not disappoint.

Fueled by a poisonous mother-daughter relationship, this play grabs you and sucks out all hope. In a good way. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s expertly crafted and performed.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane centres around Maureen, a 40-year-old living and caring for her aging mother, Mag. This relationship is nothing short of toxic, and the cold tension from the start feels like it may not have anywhere to go.

It escalates from here though, as McDonagh twists and turns the story to keep our attention; we get involved in Maureen’s love story with Pato Dooley, rooting for a happy ending to shake up her sad situation. But Mag’s manipulative ways threaten to ruin it all.

While referred to as a comedy, director Kathleen Doborg and assistant director Shelby Bushell lean heavily into the drama. There are a few comedic moments, but the story largely feels heavy.

Kirsten Slenning shines as Maureen. Giving a superb performance, we are on her side from the beginning. Letting us into her lonely world, we feel for her, and her plight in dealing with such a manipulative mother. The witty banter back and forth between the two women is skillfully crafted.

Tanja Dixon-Warren plays the manipulative mother Mag with a humorous, although unpleasant, ease. Ashley O’Connell plays an endearing Pato, and Francis Winter manages to take on the odd character of Ray with all of his eccentricities.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane is considered a modern classic of Irish Theatre. The actors all excel at working with Irish accents, transporting the audience to the small village of Leenane, Connemara.

Stephanie Wong’s set is cozy and effective, inviting the audience into the very lived in home of Maureen and Mag.  Javier Sotres’ sound design feels a little patchy, with some drastic volume changes, although it is unclear whether these were choices or technical difficulties.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane may feel dark and hopeless, but it also provides important questions about the choices we make in life, and the responsibilities we take on for family. What dreams do we give up and what does it mean to live a happy life?

Go see The Beauty Queen of Leenane to be reminded why you shouldn’t still be living at home when you are forty.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh. Directed by Kathleen Duborg with assistant direction from Shelby Bushell. An Ensemble Theatre Company production. Playing in repertory with Dark Road and A Few Good Men on stage at the Jericho Arts Centre (1675 Discovery St, Vancouver) through August 15. Visit for tickets and information.

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