DANCING AT LUGHNASA
by Brian Friel.
Mercury Theatre Balkerne Gate CO1 1PT To 16 June 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu 2pm Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 16 June 2.30pm.
Captioned 12 June.
Post-show Discussion 13 June.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 01206 573948.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 8 June.
A production that deserves to be a classic, of a play that already is one.
This production, a wonder of modern theatre, reflects finely on all involved, but supremely on three people.
One is playwright Brian Friel. Set near his usual fictional village Ballybeg, Dancing gives a local habitation and a name to Wordsworth’s “still, sad music of humanity”. The name is Mundy, five sisters whose home, in Sara Perks’ setting, aptly merges into surrounding cornfields.
Then there’s Dee Evans, recently departed Mercury boss, who over 14 years made the place a theatrical beacon through developing a company of regularly returning actors. The ensemble she created shows in the ease and authority of performances here.
And Sue Lefton, who stepped in as director, illuminating Friel’s play, with her usual mix of conceptual perception and visual flair as events in 1936 are reflected through the middle-aged Michael reflecting on the time he was a child.
There’s strong dramatic tension between the sisters’ (including Michael’s mother) day-to-day lives and larger forces. Any golden glow isn’t memory, but autumn sunshine at harvest god Lu’s festival. Brother Jack, a Catholic missionary, has his own golden memories of Uganda where he picked up local paganism, celebrating polygamy and its self-sustaining family communities.
His sisters too form a community, sharing work and supporting mentally vulnerable Rosie. But as traditional gods fail, so do impersonal modern deities. Their wireless repeatedly fizzles out despite offerings of new batteries; home-work is replaced by factories.
The memorable moment the women spontaneously erupt into a Dionysiac outburst of dance is enriched as Kate’s annoyed fidgets at her sisters convert into compulsive involvement. Then Lefton shifts the gear, Ben Payne’s lighting going from gold to cold, the celebration becoming a stylised clutching for support. Elsewhere, she shows slow dances forming temporary, individual ballrooms of romance.
There are only three drawbacks. A character up a tree is represented crudely by an amplified voiceover, and Michael’s final speech is delivered over a pre-recorded song, spoken and sung words battling for attention. But that’s like complaining the Hanging Gardens of Babylon have one plant slightly drooping. The only real problem is this superb production has merely a single remaining week.
Jack: Ignatius Anthony.
Maggie: Michelle Butt.
Rose: Clare Humphrey.
Agnes: Kristin Hutchinson.
Gerry: Tomos James.
Michael: Ian Kirkby.
Chris: Nadia Morgan.
Kate: Kelly Williams.
Director: Sue Lefton.
Designer: Sara Perks.
Lighting: Ben Payne.
Sound: Marcus Christensen.
Dialect coach: Charmian Hoare.
Dialect assistant: Simon Money.