Dancing At Lughnasa – Gaiety Theatre – Review – DTF


Dancing at Lughnasa – Oct 6 – 11, Gaiety Theatre – Review

Dancing at Lughnasa is set in 1936 in the fictional town of Ballybeg in Donegal during the Lughnasa (or harvest) festival, which is roughly in mid-August. It is the story of a young boy, Michael Evans and the house he grew up in. Michael lived with his mother and her four sisters, who are all bright and lively characters and it is a good humoured house, despite their poor circumstances. None of the five women are married. Michael was the ‘love child’ of his mother Christina and Gerry Evans, a Welsh man who despite his best intentions has never been gainfully employed and seems to have never grown up. He visits occasionally but has not played an active part in his child’s upbringing. Michael’s uncle has recently returned to the house after working as a missionary in Africa for many years. This is the tale of the house and a summer where much changes for the inhabitants.

The story is told by the narrator, an older version of Michael Evans who lurks at the side of the stage and occasionally steps into the spotlight to explain the events or reveal future happenings. This device allows the viewer to know the back story of the characters without resorting to clunky dialogue. The story drifts between various scenes of the women in their kitchen, and the interesting dynamic between them. There is a controlled mood in the house, but sometimes it erupts into flurries of dancing and wildness whenever the Marconi radio bursts into life. There is a complex relationship between the various sisters. Kate is the oldest of the family and works as a school teacher. She is also the self-appointed moral guardian of the group, and tries to keep the family on the straight and narrow. The siblings each have their role within the family and the relationships between each are intricate.

This is a great play for the actors, with some impressive dialogue and subtle characters for them to develop. Cara Kelly seems to enjoy the role of Maggie, the home-maker and peace keeper and stands out amongst the sisters, while Declan Conlon’s role as the distant Father Jack (long before Craggy Island) is impressive.

It feels unusual to review this work in the week that Brian Friel died, as at one level it has become a celebration of his life. This is probably his most famous work and also his most autobiographical, and it is fitting that it opened in Dublin the week he died. The play has often been accused of being sentimental, but there is great sadness evident in the work and it is clear while this was an enjoyable time, it was also extremely difficult. This is no pastiche of halcyon days and it is a struggle for the sisters to even get by. For those that remember the original production in the Abbey, it will never be surpassed, but for a new generation to discover his work, this is an enjoyable production that shows the joys and harshness of rural life.

Cast and Creative Team:

Directed by Annabelle Comyn
Cast includes: Catherine McCormack, Cara Kelly, Vanessa Emme, Mary Murray, Declan Conlon, Matt Tait, Charlie Bonner, Catherine Cusack
Set Design: Paul O’Mahony
Costume Design: Joan O’Cleary
Lighting Design: Chahine Yavroyan
Sound Design: Fergus O’Hare
Choreographer: Liz Roche


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