REVIEW: Dancing at Lughnasa – Lyric Theatre, Belfast
Brian Friel’s critically acclaimed play ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ returned to the Lyric theatre to mark the 25th anniversairy of the original production and to mark the start of the inaugural Lughnasa International Friel Festival.
Their was a terrific atmosphere of anticipation for the return of the play many of who have likely seen it before and many like myself who are relatively new to the works of Brian Friel looking forward to another great production from the Lyric the last of which I seen here was “Shadow Of A Gunman.”
The Lyric Theatre is a fantastic place to go and watch a performance, very intimate and it doesn’t matter where you are sitting you always have a sense that your right on top of the stage. And the acoustics in there are fantastic.
One of Ireland’s most loved plays of the modern era has been brought back to the stage by award winning director Anna Comyn giving us an insight into rural 1936 Donegal and a poignant time for the Mundy family as Lughnasa (start of the harvest) begins and life starts to change for the household.
We are guided through memories of Michael Evans who is painting a picture of a time in his life which he feels was pivotal into what would happen to his mother and four sisters for years to come. The return of his father and Uncle Jack to his family home around this time and the changes that were to shape his future.
Charlie Bonner guided us through the story playing the role of ‘Michael‘. His delivery and lingering presence on stage throughout the entirety of the performance grasped my attention at the beginning and didn’t relinquish until the end.
The story line and the characters themselves do leave a lot to the audiences imagination to fill in as we are merely getting a brief insight to each of the characters through the memories of Michael. I wanted to know more about ‘Fr. Jacks‘ (Declan Conlon) time in Uganda, there was a big difference in this character between acts and I enjoyed mostly that as he went to Uganda in a missionary it seems that he is the one that got converted by the Ugandan people, and also the travels of ‘Gerry Evans‘, Michaels father. (Matt Tait).
There is so much more you need to know about the sisters too to get a better insight into all their different relationships and how they interact with each other. I guess this is the beauty of the play that even though there doesn’t seem to be much happening the dialogue between each of the characters opens up a endless list of different story lines and possibilities.
I got a sense of darkness and uneasiness from the outset which seemed a bit off giving the differences between certain scenes. There were moments that were quite haunting and then it just all lightened up again. There could have been a bit more emphasis put on the darkness of certain aspects of the story.
The performance of all the sisters where fairly good however some of the performances did lack some consistently for the duration. Cara Kelly (Maggie) and Catherine McCormack (kate) delivered the two strongest performances for me and they were helped by their characters being so strong and dynamic. ‘Rose’ played by Mary Murray gave us a majority of the laughs in the play and her character did remind me somewhat of Dougal from Father Ted.
Vanessa Emme who played Michael’s mother ‘Christine’ was also extremely watchable but I do think her role was overshadowed by the two I mentioned previously. The last sister was ‘Agnes‘ played by Catherine Cusack and although her performance was good, the character was too weak to compete with the more dominant characters.
The play touches on some important factors about 30’s Ireland. The lack of food and economy. The start of the Spanish Civil war and Ireland’s involvement on both sides of the conflict, the start of the factory girls in Donegal and Derry and the struggle with holding a Christian life and the modern day encouragement to be more individualistic and thinking freely for yourself. There are so many aspects to the play that I’m sure everyone takes something different away from watching it but for me it was very enjoyable and would encourage me to go and see another production of a Brian Friel play .
You could write a literature review so easily on Dancing at Lughnasa but ultimately it’s there to go enjoy. It’ll be running until September 27th and I’d encourage anyone who hasn’t seen it to go and take in something we should be proud of coming from these shores. If you haven’t seen it before and want to experience Theatre for the First time it wouldn’t be a bad place to start. Pól O’Hagan, GiggingNI.com