by Brian Friel.

Royal and Derngate (Royal auditorium) Guildhall Street NN1 1DP To 15 June 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 12 June, 13 June 2.30pm.
BSL Signed 13 June 7.45pm.
Captioned 11 June.
Post-show Discussion 3 June.
Tickets: 01604 624811.

then Oxford Playhouse 11-12 Beaumont Street OX1 2LW 18-22 June 2013.
Tue-Thu; Sat 7.30pm Fri 8pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Post-show Discussion 19 June.
TICKETS: 01865 305305.

Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 28 May.

Sun-god shines with muted power.
Nothing in theatre’s predictable. Brian Friel is Ireland’s greatest living playwright, Dancing at Lughnasa among his finest plays. Director Richard Beecham has a fine track-record, including Terence Rattigan’s In Praise of Love at the Royal in 2011. But something’s not quite right.

The five Mundy sisters, a family community living in 1936 outside Friel’s regular fictional home Ballybeg, are individually apt. Gráinne Keenan’s Aggie sits centrally, her cheerful good-sense moderating problems; Sarah Corbett’s Rose, incapable of independent living, has a sympathetic frankness and childlike spontaneity, while as Christina, single mother of young Michael, Zoë Rainey bothers least about the boy his aunts fuss over.

Playful Maggie has a stern-seeming side in Caroline Lennon, while Kate, the teacher and major income provider among houseworking glove-makers and those tending the farm, is marked-out by her finer clothing and stern demeanour.

So when, in the play’s most theatrically startling scene she finally joins the sisters’ spontaneous dance, pagan joy at the feast of Celtic sun-god Lugh truly breaks through the harsh surface of life. The more so because the music’s from Marconi, the new-fangled wireless which works fitfully, like a jealous god.

But the staging confines this family to a crowded central room for indoor scenes, stranded behind a garden area, and with the design cliché of a stage stripped to the theatre walls. In a largely realistic play – Friel tactfully fills in the era and location while developing story and characters – this merely looks unfinished.

And the men are either played with external mannerisms substituting for real characterisation – though Christopher Saul, as a Catholic priest back from Uganda, where he clearly went native, has an ungainly dance contrasting the sisters’ earlier celebration –or in the case of Colm Gormley as the adult Michael whose memories cast a sad light over his childhood family, seeming too detached, as if instructed to turn up, do his bit, then leave the stage as fast as possible.

The poetic atmosphere lost in this matter-of-factness is partly supplied by Jon Nicholls’ Celtic-tinged score. Friel’s play still exerts its strength. But it’s muted by elements of this production.

Rose: Sarah Corbett.
Michael: Colm Gormley.
Agnes: Gráinne Keenan.
Maggie: Caroline Lennon.
Kate: Michele Moran.
Christina: Zoë Rainey.
Father Jack: Christopher Saul.
Gerry: Milo Twomey.

Director: Richard Beecham
Designer: Naomi Dawson.
Lighting: Lee Curran.
Sound/Composer: Jon Nicholls.
Choreographer: Quinny Sacks.
Dialect coach: Daniele Lydon.
Assistant director: Alice Malin.

2013-05-29 14:18:36

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