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Stamford Shoestring staged a brilliantly acted production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Stamford Arts Centre

Shoestring’s highly capable cast illuminated a deliciously dark drama, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, during a five-night run at Stamford Arts Centre.

Written by Martin McDonagh and set in the village of Leenane on the west coast of Ireland, the play shares the theme of Philip Larkin’s short and much-quoted poem, This Be The Verse - too sweary to be repeated by the Mercury, so if you’re unsure and not easily offended, look it up.

Only four actors feature in the two-hour play, yet the delivery of thousands of words was carried out with plausible Irish accents - at least to an East Midlands ear - and plenty of emotional depth.

Hannah Drury-Lewis, Yvonne Pini, Ellen Fraser and Jeremy Goldthorpe
Hannah Drury-Lewis, Yvonne Pini, Ellen Fraser and Jeremy Goldthorpe

The bitter and often spiteful relationship between Maureen (Ellen Fraser) and her mother, Mag (Yvonne Pini) was captivating, yet sometimes uncomfortable to watch, and the realisation that Maureen is not a straightforward, sympathetic character unfolded slowly and satisfyingly to a desolate final scene.

Both Fraser and Pini should be commended for ‘becoming’ the characters they were playing and transporting the audience from a warm night in Stamford to the chilly kitchen of a Galway cottage, cleverly designed by Mike Steele to include Catholic-themed curiosities that jarred with the unprincipled ways of the women who lived there.

Jeremy Goldthorpe also shone as Pato Dooley, a character with genuine decency who pours out his heart in a letter to Maureen. Goldthorpe delivered these words directly to the audience in a scene that had everyone rooting for him, not just because Pato’s honesty is touching, but because the acting was so good.

Ellen Fraser as Maureen in the final scene
Ellen Fraser as Maureen in the final scene

Although on stage less, Hannah Drury-Lewis performed the character of Ray Dooley with the right level of comedy, offering a familiar type - a restless teenager whose window to a wider world amounts to Aussie soaps and dreaming of driving lessons.

Stamford Shoestring was set up 80 years ago and now stages four productions a year. Shakespeare in Love, based on the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, will be on stage at Stamford Arts Centre from December 5.

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