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Dancing at Lughnasa

by Brian Friel

Spring 2018



Brain Friel’s play, about five unmarried sisters living in 1930s Donegal, is not an easy work to bring to the stage. As fragile hope is mercilessly snatched away one brief summer, it’s an uncompromising examination of how poverty so often leads to the stagnation of already challenged lives. If that sounds like a grim way to spend a couple of hours, then credit is due to director David Green and his talented cast for presenting such a moving portrait of a family on the edge of misfortune.
After the horrors of Meryl Streep’s scenery chewing turn in the film adaptation, is was refreshing to see the play done straight, with Mia Chadwick’s understated performance of the matriarchal Kate a perfectly judged hub around which other characters could turn. Cathy Edwards-Gill offered up an unusually whimsical portrait of Maggie, the determinably good humoured sister, albeit a humour that was laced with a steely determination. Just as good, and incidentally getting better every time she performs, was Emma Martin as the deluded Chris, forever looking over the horizon for her beau. Counterpointed by Hannah Gardiner and Frances Lamb as the quiet ones, the five of them gave a powerful and consistent ensemble performance that Peter Sowerbutts and Darren France were only ever going to manoeuvre around the edge of. A special nod should also go to Joe Edwards-Gill, who did well with the usually thankless task of the narrator Michael - his quiet and assured delivery investing what could easily have become tiresome exposition with genuine pathos.
Frankly, Friel’s play has not aged well. Given its stately pace and predicable trajectory, it is a surprise to be reminded it was written as recently as 1990. Although the sisters are well drawn, they quickly lapse into archetypes we’ve seen before and which rarely confound audience expectation. In short, nothing much happens, and what does is seen coming from a long way off. It is, therefore, all the more remarkable that through a combination of solid acting and nifty direction, Open Space squeezed what they did from the play, and did so with such commitment and authenticity.

David Vass


Dancing at Lughnasa is set in Ireland's County Conegal in August 1936. It is a Memory play told from the point of view of the adult Michael Evans, the narrator. He recounts the summer in his aunts' cottage when he was seven years old.

The play was originally presented at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1990. It transferred to London's National Theatre in 1991, winning the Olivier Award for Best Play. It trransferred to Broadway's Plymouth Theatre where it won the Tony Award for Best Play as well as a Drama Desk Award nomination for Outstanding Play.

Dancing at Lughnasa was adapted for a 1998 film starring Meryl Streep as Kate Mundy and directed by Pat O'Connor. .



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Wingfield Barns 01379 384505

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