by Brian Friel.
Rose Theatre 24-26 High Street KT1 1HL To 3 May 2014.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 1 May 2.30pm (+ Touch Tour 1pm).
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS: 08444 821556.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 23 April.
Magnificent, in any language.
It’s been a fine Spring for Brian Friel in English Theatre, with Keswick’s first-rate revival of Dancing at Lughnasa and English Touring Theatre production of Translations touring since February from co-producers Sheffield Theatres’ three-play Friel season, and now ending with third co-producer, Kingston’s Rose Theatre.
Both plays show a traditional way of life in transition. It might be anywhere in Ireland. But Friel sets his action, as usual, in fictional ‘small town’ Ballybeg. There, in the 1930s Dancing’s Mundy sisters find their family community under threat. And there, a century earlier, the ‘hedge school’ of informal education among the peasantry faces a new national education system, while the English army is threatening people’s place names, creating ‘Ballybeg’ out of their ‘Baile Beag’. Friel ingeniously makes clear when the English of his dialogue represents Gaelic. Latin and Greek are quoted in their own words.
A strong part of the play’s force lies in ironies and contrasts. The teacher, Hugh, is drunk, the classical scholar Jimmy Jack is halfway mad but can quote whole books of ancient verse. The most go-ahead character, Owen, collaborates with the English army, who mistake his name, calling him Roland. And his army friend Yolland acquires a love for the town he’s helping rename when he and Máire fall in love. Beth Cooke and James Northcote circle each other, mirroring the communal dance they’ve just fled to be alone, the sound of each other’s voice making meaning unnecessary.
As Friel explores large themes through precise details Grieve’s production creates intensity through particularity. Assistant teacher Manus listening and encouraging Sarah to speak her name, the language of smiles between Yolland and Máire, are matched by the solo world of John Conroy’s old peasant, sat straight, his mind filled with the classics; it’s all Greek to him.
And the oratorical greatness of Niall Buggy’s schoolmaster Hugh, inebriated yet filled with greatness – an offspring of Bernard Shaw’s Captain Shotover. No actor can touch Buggy’s brand of vocal magnificence, especially in Hugh’s final fatalistic translation from the Greek, foreseeing personal and social collapse in unstrained grandeur that is a thrill to hear.
Owen: Cian Barry.
Hugh: Niall Buggy.
Captain Lancey: Paul Cawley.
Jimmy Jack: John Conroy.
Máire: Beth Cooke.
Bridget: Hannah James-Scott.
Doalty: Rory Murphy.
Sarah: Roxanna Nic Liam.
Yolland: James Northcote.
Manus: Ciarán O’Brien.
Director: James Grieve.
Designer: Lucy Osborne.
Lighting: James Farncombe.
Sound: Tom Gibbons.
Voice coach: Majella Hurley.
Choreographer: Jane Moriarty.
Assistant director: Sean Linnen.