Dancing at Lughnasa
Barron Theatre, 11 April
Dir. Beth Robertson
****

Dancing at Lughnasa, is an excellent example of the work of the “Irish Chekhov” Brian Friel, who is considered not only one of the greatest English-language dramatists but also the voice of Ireland. recently put up at the Barron as a part of the On the Rocks arts festival, The play follows the Mundy family through their final summer together at their home in rural Ireland as relationships begin to splinter, heal, and splinter again, testing all the while the limits of love and faith. All unmarried and increasingly middle aged, the sisters Rose, Agnes, Chris, and Maggie build a life together with eldest sister Kate who is the maternal figurehead, the only one with a job in town and with such a fierce Catholic faith. As economic hardships face the family alongside new family shifts, young Michael precociously observes his aunts re-evaluating their roles and relationships, although he only understands years later, after the family has fallen apart and the beautifully tenuous nature of that summer is made clear to him.

The play deals with the divide between religious, rural Ireland of the north and the more progressive Ireland of the south during the 20th century; the divide is met head on by The Mundy sisters, to both tragic and touching ends. The performance of the play put on by St Andrews students succeeded once again at capturing the audience’s hearts and imagination.

The use of an adult Michael both narrating events and playing himself at the age of 7 was largely seamless as the actresses reacted to the imaginary child with ease and charm. I would have liked to see Sam Peach’s Michael have more emotion as he recounted his memories and interactions, but was generally very impressed with his delivery of sometimes very long monologues. Charlie Martin’s experience with Blind Mirth no doubt helped her play the light-hearted and cheeky Maggie perfectly, although with a noticeable tenderness and strength that emphasises her talents as a performer outside of comedy. Carly Brown, however, won most of my admiration as she played Kate ‘the Gander’ not only as a preachy annoyer but as the most sensitive of the sisters, her facial expressions in every scene showing her increasing heartbreak and confusion, even sitting in the farthest corner of the stage. Also, kudos for a realistic stage cry. Daniëlle Hollreiser also played her character brilliantly as the naïve and selfish youngest sister, Florence Templeton maintained a strong Irish accent and feisty edge to Agnes, and David Patterson played Jack with a familiarity and humour of a favourite great-uncle. Finally, Ayanna Coleman and Ben Anderson danced into the sympathies of all who watched them, despite knowing their romance to be instable and largely fictional. Indeed, the major theme that I took from watching the show was that joy is taken when it can be found, and a dose of the imaginary, whether in Gerry’s business ambitions and secret family or in Rose’s fascination with the romance of the Pagan holiday of Lughnasa, is sometimes the best way to survive.

The inclusion of the in-house ceilidh band, which created atmosphere and life in a way recorded music could not was greatly enjoyed, and the green lighting of the stage which reminded viewers of the rural setting helped maintain the sense of illusion. The elevated space on stage also worked, although I was constantly worried the actors would fall (and some did, with impressive focus). All, in all a wonderful performance directed beautifully and well-acted.

 

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