Translations – Abbey Theatre – Review
An Abbey Theatre and Lyric Theatre Belfast Co-Production
13 June – 13 August
Photos by Ros Kavanagh
We meet the residents of Baile Beag/ Ballybeg as they wait for their teacher to arrive at their local hedge school. There is a boisterous mood in the air as they talk of the arrival of the British military officers involved in the Ordnance Survey’s map-making operation in Ireland. They are then surprised by the arrival of Owen (Leonard Buckley), a local man who moved to Dublin to find work. He is back in Ballybeg as he is working for the English officers, particularly Lieutenant Yolland (Aidan Moriarty), a fresh-faced English man who seems to be loving his time in Ireland. Owen is helping Yolland translate the local place names into equivalent names in English. When Yolland meets an Irish woman called Maire (Zara Devlin), despite the fact they do not speak the same language, affections start to grow between the young couple.
The play is set in Ireland at some time before the Great Famine. There are mentions of blight, which is a constant fear for the local inhabitants. As you would expect in Ireland of the time, the main language was Irish. For those not familiar with the play, one of the central conceits is that although all the actors speak in English throughout, the Irish characters are talking in “Irish” and the English characters in English. Only a few of the characters can speak in both languages and often work as translators for each side. The political situation in Ireland is also discussed, with the mention of Daniel O’Connell and his opinions on the Irish language, including the quote “The old language is a barrier to modern progress.”
This is a work written by playwright Brian Friel in 1980. It was first produced by the Field Day Theatre Company, which was founded by Friel and Stephen Rea. The first production of Translations included Stephen Rea as Owen, along with other well-known actors such as Mick Lally (Manus) and Liam Neeson (Doalty). The play was first staged in Derry, which must have made quite an impact due to its themes of colonialism and the renaming of Irish locations.
The stage is quite unusual, with a raised a-frame roof structure at the centre of the stage, which the actors have to scramble over as they traverse the stage. There is also a stair leading to a small building stage right. It is a relatively simple stage, possibly designed to allow for the production to travel.
The piece is very much an ensemble work, and each of the characters has their own story to tell. Marie (Zara Devlin) is a young woman who yearns for excitement and finds it in the arms of Lieutenant Yolland (Aidan Moriarty). Even the Lieutenant who you would expect to be a villain, instead in Friel’s hands, he is possibly the most benevolent character on stage, a young man who fell into his current job and finds Ireland a fascinating and beautiful country. The play is a rich tapestry and each character is quite complex. While the production will not be remembered in the same esteem as the first production mentioned above, the young cast does an admirable job of bringing the characters to life.
This work seems quite prescient in a week where relations between Ireland and our neighbouring island continue to sour. As this is a joint production with the Lyric Theatre, the issue of the Irish language is at the centre of the discussions in Northern Ireland in relation to the restoration of Stormont. These issues continue to resonate, much as they did almost two hundred years ago! Friel’s work continues to be as relevant today as it was when it was first written.
Owen: Leonard Buckley
Bridget: Ruby Campbell / Holly Hannaway
Maire: Zara Devlin
Doalty: Andy Doherty
Hugh: Brian Doherty
Jimmy Jack: Ronan Leahy
Lieutenant Yolland: Aidan Moriarty
Manus: Marty Rea
Sarah: Suzie Seweify
Captain Lancey: Howard Teale
Writer: Brian Friel
Director: Caitríona McLaughlin
Set Design: Joanna Parker
Costume Design: Catherine Fay
LX Design: Paul Keogan
Sound Design: Carl Kennedy
Movement Director: Sue Mythen
Casting Director: Sarah Jones
Voice Director: Andrea Ainsworth
Assistant Director: Laura Sheeran
Producer (Abbey): Jen Coppinger
Producer (Lyric): Morag Keating
Production Manager (Abbey): Andy Keogh
Production Manager (Lyric): Siobhán Barbour
Company Stage Manager : Bronagh Doherty
Deputy Stage Manager: Louise Graham
Assistant Stage Manager: Jennifer Aust
Costume Supervisor: Eimear Farrell
Marketing Lead: Fergus Hannigan
Press Lead : Róisín McGann