A tale dark and comical

MADC has gone from one ‘beauty’ to another in the space of a few weeks, this time producing the award-winning play The Beauty Queen of Leenane with Isabel Warrington and Andrea Pace in the lead roles

Photo by Justin Mamo
Photo by Justin Mamo

Following the recent sell-out success of its Christmas pantomime Beauty and the Beast, MADC’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane promises to be yet another memorable production – especially with top performers Isabel Warrington, Andrea Pace, Nicholas Jackman and Alex Weenink, under the direction of Adrian Buckle, taking on the four characters in this darkly humorous play.

Winning several awards – including an Olivier and multiple Tony Awards – The Beauty Queen of Leenane was written by Martin McDonagh, a playwright and filmmaker whose other work has also won multiple accolades, with The Banshees of Inisherin being the most recent.

The story follows Maureen, a plain and lonely spinster who lives with her meddlesome mother, Mag, in the tiny Irish village of Leenane. Mag’s interference in her daughter’s life threatens to ruin Maureen’s chances at her first, and possibly her last, chance at love. The play explores the suffocating relationship between the two main characters, which mirrors the relationship that many young Irish people tend to have with their mother country.

The role of Maureen is a meaty one, even when not following an absence from the theatre of over two decades, as is the case for Andrea Pace. “I am both excited and a little terrified at the prospect of performing again, and I’m grateful that I didn’t know how demanding this role would be, otherwise I would have chickened out!” she confesses. “Building Maureen’s character is a work in progress. I’ve been researching Connemara and what growing up there must have been like for her, as well as the Irish accent. Having said that, I’m opting for more of a lilt at this point!”

The Irish accent proved to be the most demanding part of Isabel Warrington’s preparation for this play, too. “It’s my first time doing an Irish accent, and it has been my biggest challenge in this play so far,” Warrington shares. “However, I am really enjoying playing Mag. She holds the power for most of the time she’s around and her dishevelled appearance belies a tough old cookie who is an excellent puppeteer. The subtle nuances in her speech make it all the more fun to explore.”

Interpreting a character can be a painstaking process, and every actor approaches it differently. Warrington prefers to ignore other actors’ previous interpretations, only allowing herself to watch the latter once the play is over. “I like to create my own version, relying entirely on the script and trying to understand the background and setting of the character to try to make it as authentic as possible,” she says.

As for Pace, she is enjoying rediscovering the process. “I used to have many tools in my now very rusty character-building box, so I’m currently dusting them off one by one, seeing what will work for the character of Maureen,” she smiles.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane has been described by The Guardian as “the blackest of comedy that is both hilarious and horrific”, which is synonymous with the Irish sense of humour, adds Warrington. “The play is hilariously funny in its darkness – precisely what you would expect from Irish humour. But after I read the script for the first time, I thought it could also very easily be set in Malta in the 90s as there are many similarities in the culture, especially the religion and the insular mentality. I think that will really appeal to Maltese people who lived through that time.”

MADC’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane will be performed at the MADC Playhouse, Sta Venera, on 23, 24 and 25 February and 1, 2 and 3 March, with all performances at 7.30pm. This production is suitable for audiences aged 16 and over. Booking is now open at www.madc.com.mt. The MADC production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane is supported by The Embassy of Ireland in Malta and presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals Ltd on behalf of Samuel French Ltd: www.concordtheatricals.co.uk.