Q&A: The Beauty Queen of Leenane Designer Renée Mulder

Date posted: 19 Nov 2019 Author: STC

Designer Renée Mulder (Image: Nisha Agiasotis)

Tell us about your vision for this production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane.

For me, this production started with a very early discussion I had with Paige, the director, about the idea of isolation. The two protagonists are isolated within the landscape in which they live, the hilly terrain of Leenane, a small and remote village on the West coast of Ireland. They are physically isolated, but they’re really also emotionally isolated. That’s why we wanted to explicitly include the landscape in design and use that to reflect the emotional unrest of the two characters. We wanted to set a scene that was bleak from the beginning.

What are some of the ways you incorporated isolation into this production’s design?

We’re conveying two spaces on the stage – the exterior landscape to Mag and Maureen’s cottage and the cottage interior. We’ve pitched and angled the cottage into what seems a very tight corner of the stage. In doing so we’re attempting to create a tension that forces the characters to live almost on top of each other. The interior is like a pressure-cooker, this tiny little environment simmering and bubbling on the inside, in contrast to a vast, depressing nothingness beyond.

How did you conceive of Mag and Maureen’s costumes?

I wanted their costumes to speak to their psychology. In the beginning of the play, I tried to access that psychology through the daily rituals that happen between these two women. When we break that down, we initially see a daughter acting as a carer for her mother. For Maureen her role as carer seems all consuming, her clothes are therefore relatively practical and utilitarian.

As the play progresses, we see this relationship between the two characters disintegrate, so I’m reflecting that in the costumes too. One example of this is Mag, who starts the play in house clothes. We assume Maureen might help Mag dress into these clothes as part of their morning routine. As the relationship with her daughter continues to strain, the routine breaks down and Mag is then stuck in her nightie and dressing gown.

Tell us about the landscape of Leenane.

Landscapes like the one we’ve specified are incredibly challenging to build and aren’t seen on theatre stages that often: it’s quite mountainous, it’s drab, it’s grey, it’s damp and boggy.

The play is set in an economically hard time for Ireland and many people were travelling over to England to seek work. Pato, one of the characters does just that, and Ray, his younger brother, has dreams of moving out of the village altogether.

Almost everyone in the play is trying to leave, trying to strive for a better life somewhere else.


The Beauty Queen of Leenane plays at the Roslyn Packer Theatre, Walsh Bay, 18 Nov - 21 Dec 2019. 

Seeing the show? Let us know your thoughts by tagging @sydneytheatreco and #sydneytheatreco