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Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel

Published on September 20th 2005.

If your hectic schedule only allows fleeting visits to the theatre ensure that you visit this play. A quite brilliant production of a stunning play by Brian Friel . Nearly 3 hours of absorbing, reflective, mind challenging thought. A writing masterclass. A wonderful evening .

A challenging, haunting, powerful dissection of repression , religious dogma , freedom, with no easy ending. It cuts through humanities efforts to rationalise or explain the meaning of life. From its perspective of early 1936 political rumblings this is a play for everyman. The mixed messages and questions of the play are eternal in their relevance .

It is summer 1936 . The action takes place at the home of the Mundy family in the village of Ballybeg, County Donegal. The twentieth century is beginning to affect the previous certainties of life , not least of all the unthinking acceptance of religion. 'Dancing at Lughnasa' recalls a pagan festival well known in these parts. The dancing remains a strong metaphor as events unfold .

The wireless has appeared, American musical influences are becoming widespread. The Abyssinian war is in full force and the Spanish Civil War affecting even County Donegal. A world of life changing events. Ballybeg is facing new forces which Kate struggles to control. The action shows slow, inexorable technological advances as being irresistible.

In Ballybeg five unmarried sisters and one 'love – child' await the arrival of brother Jack from 25 years as a missionary in Uganda and the fleeting visits of Gerry, a 'liberated' Welshman, the father of Michael, his child by one the sisters.

The story is narrated by Michael. He offers continuity, explanation and denouement. The action shows the battle between dogma, the certainties of religion, the battles for human freedom and the countervailing options of liberty, free thought and democracy. It does all this in a non-judgemental way , presenting human doubts in a well argued, objective, but essentially pessimistic light. Nothing is quite as it seems.

Friel succeeds in portraying this, by drawing his characters fully and then standing back to allow the audience to reach their own conclusions . It is a Chekhovian writing performance by one this century’s giants.

The cast is superb. The five sisters well defined , full of passion and individually distinct, add much to the action . As an ensemble they provide a clarity and an emphasis which lend a quite hypnotic effect to the evening. They also provide an astonishing dance which has the audience captivated. It provoked a most surprising reaction. The 'Dancing at Lughnasa' effect.

J D Kelleher is an outstanding Michael. Simply and with great authority he explains, comments upon and helps explain the story. He adds much presence without interceding. His is an accomplished performance. The perfect narrator.

Robert Perkins is excellent as Gerry Evans . As a representative of another world he captivates the sisters and offers the audience the chance to see such different world.

But to go back to the sisters and their brother .They all gave bravura performances which enables a suspension of belief to transport the playgoer to the summer of 1936. Nimbly directed by Roger Haines the best I can do here is acknowledge them individually and thank them for a life – justifying night at the theatre.

Well done Deirdre Monaghan , Mary McEvoy , Sarah Corbett , Stella Madden , Ciara O’Callaghan and Gary Lilburn.

Richard Burbage

Library Theatre Manchester
until 15.10.05
Box Office 0161 236 7110

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