Missed opportunities: The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh at Caterham’s Miller Centre

My theatre seat bum has not been to an actual theatre since early 2020, just after I moved to Surrey. With all due respect, it is itching to be back in the audience. After a disastrous first attempt, I am not happy to get on London’s underground too soon again, and instead aim to check out my (not so) new (anymore) local theatre scene – those stages I can reach by train, away from crowds. My first stop is Caterham’s Miller Centre and its amateur troupe, where I catch one of the last of this summer’s performances of Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen Of Leenane. Early last year, I had booked tickets to see this play here with friends, but the pandemic delayed the opening night by over a year. Standing out among other production companies and theatres, the Miller Centre refunded all tickets as soon as possible.

Find Caterham’s Miller Center five walking minutes away from the town’s train station

Luckily, venue and cast stayed committed to stage the play, as the updated programme notes tell. We arrive with our masks on, seated in the first row with no one next to, behind or in front of us in what seems to be a full house, given how many mint-coloured seats must stay unused because of social distancing regulations. By no means did I expect the inside of the Miller Centre including the vastness of the stage to be that big.

Thankfully the audience respects all social distance measurements

You should not expect a jolly night when you watch a McDonagh play (or film), and this piece on domestic hatred set in 1990s Galway, Ireland is no exception. While I leave it to native speakers to judge if the Irish accents are authentic, the cast is brilliant: We can feel the claustrophobic dependency of Maureen Folan and her elderly mother Mag – neither of them having anything other to look forward to than ruining each other’s day and night. Neighbours popping by grant little relief or distraction from the loneliness of their kitchen war, are utilised in a psycho battle as are dry biscuits, radio channels and (yuck, spoiler) body liquids. Other family members have long given up on trying to maintain harmony, let alone visiting. People with a similar level of unforgiving hate and despise for each other, suffocating in the loneliness they have created and maintained, can only be encountered in Vladimir Nabokov’s oeuvre – I already thought that last time I watched McDonagh’s work on stage. It’s sinister, but it makes us laugh occasionally, hoping that we never become that desperate and absorbed in boredom and dullness. That there will be a happy end for someone at least.

I wonder how much additional care was given to the cottage set up during lockdown – as much as this home is lacking warmth, the details of the stage design are intricate up to the tiles on the roof. I at least did not expect this from an am dram stage at the end of a Southern train line, and could name a couple of more well-known theatres not providing this standard. For sure, I’ll be back.

**** out of 5 stars

Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen Of Leenane ran in the Miller Centre in Caterham in summer 2021.

We paid £11 per ticket in the second row.

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