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08 June 2012


Dancing at Lughnasa
Mercury Theatre, Colchester
Friday 8th June 2012

Brian Friel's sentimental semi-autobiographical memory play is set in Ballybeg during the festival of Lughnasa, and centres around the farmhouse life of the five Mundy sisters.  Told out of the memories of a grown-up and grown-away Michael (Ian Kirkby), "love child" of Chris and her flighty lover Gerry, his adult-self is detached and contemplative until his final emotionally charged speech which brought a tear to the eye.

The design of this harvest-time play, by Sara Perks, was entirely charming, with the small farmhouse bedecked with simple furniture, and the outdoor space strewn with straw both on the ground and in glorious sheaths on the hillside for Rose to dance amongst.  A wonderful new Marconi radio, the source of both joy and frustration with it's unreliable battery life dominates the sideboard and much of the sister's conversation that summer.

Each of the sisters were individually realised and separately captivating as well as displaying a real togetherness and family bond, directed by Sue Lefton. 

Maggie (Michelle Butt) is the lighthearted joker, betraying moments of masked anguish she dances and sings around the house bringing some welcome moments of relief.  School mistress Kate (Kelly Williams) is her polar opposite, the matriarchal sister maintaining a tough line on respectability despite the family's shameful burden of the production of a child born out of wedlock.  Agnes (Kristin Hutchinson) has taken on the role of looking after the sweetly simple Rose (Clare Humphrey) and does so serenely and tenderly, while suppressing her skill in dancing and her attraction to Gerry.  Rose herself has a feisty personality coupled with a genuine innocence captured beautifully in this portrayal, in what was, for me, the best performance of the evening.  Christina (Nadia Morgan), the mother of our narrator, is the most real of the sisters perhaps because in Michael's memory she is the only one he doesn't recall as a caricature.  Dreamy and quiet to begin with, she transforms in the presence of the insouciant dancer Gerry (Tomos James) and the two make a believable young couple.  The return of their celebrated brother Jack (Ignatius Anthony) to the family home from his more than two decade long mission in Uganda is the central spark of memory that initiates this play, and goes on to cast another shadow of shame over the house when it appears that he has "gone native".

The traditional Irish festivities as a whole and the particular intimacies of this family are brought memorably to life in this tender play and sensitive production.  

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like my sort of play. Another that I've always meant to read but never gotten round to.