2. The Beauty Queen of Leenane

Setting the Scene

By Martin McDonagh 


Maquette, set and production imagery

The action takes place in the shabby, dim kitchen of a house in the Irish village of Leenane. Maureen, at forty, is trapped by her life. Unmarried and unhappy, she takes care of her demanding, manipulative, unwell mother Mag. Over the course of the play, Maureen sees the possibility of escape with Pato, an Irish construction worker currently working in England. Mag, terrified of losing her caregiver, intercepts and destroys a vital letter from Pato to Maureen inviting her to leave Leenane and start over with him. When Maureen realizes that Mag has betrayed her, she brutally punishes Mag by holding her mother’s hand on the top of the old turf-burning stove and pours over it oil that she has boiled on the gas range. She also throws boiling oil on her mother’s body and leaves her alone and in pain. There is screaming and moaning in this scene.

Dramatic use: In this scene, Meg punishes her mother for having burned Pato’s letter. It ends the play on a note of horror and desperation, made worse by the inevitability of something terrible happening. The audience sees earlier that the stove actually works when a kettle is boiled: it illustrates an image of steam building up and bubbling over, like Maureen’s anger.

The Challenge

As students brainstorm this props challenge they should be aware of and thinking about the following things:

In this scene Meg holds down her mother’s hand over a hot gas range top and pours hot oil over top. How do the actors, with the aid of props, pull off the challenge of demonstrating a lifelike burning using hot oil heated over a live, open gas flame?

The audience needs to believe that

  • the oil heated on the gas range is hot
  • the turf-burning stove-top is hot
  • Mag’s hand has actually been burned.


  • gas range with real flame, turned on onstage
  • chip pot and half bottle of oil, oil heated
  • rubber gloves worn by actor
  • old turf burning stove with several burners


  • run-time from start of cooking to pouring: 1 min 45 sec
  • actor’s hand held down on hot stove
  • hot oil poured over actor’s hand and repeated
  • actor’s hand should appear burned after
  • remaining oil thrown on actor


  • oil should be proper colour and viscosity
  • oil must be cool enough to avoid harming actor
  • excess oil needs to be controlled for safety
  • smoke/steam effect as oil hits burner

Student Activity

As a class or in groups discuss ways that this challenge could be undertaken as safely and effectively as possible.

Share all ideas as a class.


Explore the NAC’s solution to this props challenge. Remember…no peeking at the solution until your group or class is ready!?