The Beauty Queen of Leenane is a comedy written by an Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, set in a quiet and picturesque Irish village Leenane, Connemara in the early 1990s. The play centres around the life of Maureen Folan, a 40-year-old woman who takes care of her 70-year-old, selfish and manipulative mother Mag. The sisters of Maureen had escaped into marriage and family life, “[her] sisters wouldn’t have the bitch. Not even a half-day at Christmas to be with her can them two stand”, but Maureen, with a history of mental illness, is trapped in a seriously dysfunctional relationship with her mother.
Scene 7 is the culmination of many years of animosity and hatred between Maureen and her mother Mag. At the start of the scene, we see Maureen try to taunt Mag in a sexually explicit way by telling her the things Pato did to her and fictitiously told her how she and Pato parted grounds, “Aye, a great oul time me and Pato did have. I did get what I did want out of Pato Dooley that night, and that was good enough for him, and that was good enough for me”. In this scene, McDonagh uses dramatic irony to great effect.
Ray had entrusted Mag with the letter from Pato, telling Maureen that he is still in love with her and asks her to go to America with him. However Mag sees this as a great threat to her, as this would inevitably mean her going to a to an old age home, a fear she proclaims often during the play, “I’d die before I’d let meself be put in a home”. Because of this, she burnt this letter, and denied any existence of it. She also discovers the significant fact that Maureen and Pato did not actually have sex. This is even more pertinent due to the fact that Maureen boasted about how good Pato was in bed.
Upon questioning Maureen however, Mag gives herself away and we see Maureen torture the information out of her. The author also creates suspense by keeping the reader guessing as to who the ‘bad or evil’ character is and who is the one whom you can empathise and feel sorry for. At the beginning of the play, we feel sorry for Maureen who seems to only stay with Mag out of sufferance and Mag is manipulative and taking advantage of her. Although she proclaims that she is old and ill: “[her] urine infection, bad hand and bad back”. Despite this, she manages to look after herself when she has to.
Progressing through the play however, this view seems to change, especially with the continuing threats from Maureen, “The whole of that Complan you’ll drink now, and suck the lumps down too, and whatever’s left you haven’t drank, it is over your head I will be emptying it, and you know well enough I mean it! ” Mag also blames Maureen for her burnt hand, but at the time, we assumed that she was lying. But after finding out that she went to a “nut-house”, Difford Hall, we seem to consider the possibility that Maureen might be capable of torture.
Through the duration of the play, seemingly small things are used to create arguments between the two. Complan, a drink which Maureen makes Mag drink, creates a lot of tension. For instance, she doesn’t stir the Complan much to keep it lumpy. She also buys biscuits (Kimberleys) which Mag hates. Also the fact that Mag is scared every time the kettle amplifies the potential fact that Maureen might be torturing Mag. McDonagh’s frequent use of pauses in this passage adds to the dramatic tension as it shows the thought processes of Mag who is trying to fabricate her cover story and Maureen who is trying to coax the truth out of Mag.
This also adds suspense as we do not know how far Maureen will go to find out how Mag knew about her and Pato, as the reader cannot create a complete picture of Maureen, especially as there is much mystery shrouding her. Maureen follows a definite routine when torturing Mag. Portrayed to us by way of the stage directions, we are told that she puts the chip-pan on the stove, turns it on high and pours a half-bottle of cooking oil into it, and then puts rubber gloves on. She then sits at the table, waiting for the oil to boil.
Then, once it has boiled, she turns the radio up and takes the pan to Mag. This clinical way of torturing someone is so graphic and terrible, and the fact that she turns the radio up to muffle Mag’s screams shows utter disregard to any emotion. Even after Mag tells Maureen that she read the letter Pato sent, she carries on torturing her. After finding out Pato had invited her to America, she goes into a daze, and almost nonchalantly throws the rest of the oil into Mag’s midriff. In removing all of Maureen’s emotion, the author makes us empathise with Mag and hate Maureen.
The fact that she is so calm, “she speaks quietly, staring straight ahead” adds tension as this is not usual behaviour, and this routine seems habitual. She displays a cold and calculated side of her, for which the reader could never have guessed and is horrified by. In this passage, McDonagh successfully combines these techniques to create a very effective and suspenseful piece of writing, both combining mystery and disturbing torture, making this passage very dramatic and three dimensional.