On the 22 March at Loughborough Town Hall ‘The Original Theatre Company’ showcased their revival of Dancing at Lughnasa by Ireland’s most acclaimed and respected living playwright, Brian Friel.
Dancing at Lughanasa premiered in 1990. It became a distinguished Tony Award winning Broadway production and an Olivier award winning West End show as well as a film adaptation starring Meryl Streep.
However, director Alastair Whatley brings this beautiful and tragic story back to a smaller-scale theatre space which gave the audience the ability to intimately explore the turbulent emotions of the Mundy Sisters.
The close proximity of audience to stage also helped to reflect their small-town lifestyle in Ballybeg during twentieth Century Ireland.
Dancing at Lughnasa tells the tale of the Mundy family’s summer of 1936. Michael is the first character the audience meet; he stands to one side of the stage looking into his well-remembered old kitchen in Ballybeg.
He sees a typical family portrait involving his mother and his four aunts who are Kate, Maggie, Rose and Agnes. When these static characters come to life and Michael walks off stage we realise that we are about to witness his memory of life as a young boy surrounded by the five sisters who helped raise him.
However it is a shame that more time was not spent on developing the moments between young (invisible) Michael and his Mother, Christina, which was an unconvincing relationship.
The thirties is a time when the sisters were living on the edge of change prompted by the return of their Brother Jack, a missionary Priest who spent the last 25 years of his life in Uganda.
The production perfectly encapsulated the closely-knitted relationships between the five sisters enabling the warmth to permeate the audience space.
The performances between the sisters was convincing and their clashing perspectives on life helped to shape and reflect the struggles of a simple natured and rural family who are coming to terms with the changes of twentieth century Ireland-it’s industrialisation, which could possibly change and break their family unit.
Adult Michael frequently interrupted the sisters like a bad omen to announce their tragic future involving death, loss of love and separation. These are all heart-wrenching revelations which were made possible with the actresses’ faultless performances.
Whatley’s biggest success of this production was showing the sisters overjoyed with life. Although the family’s lives do not extend much further than their small home and surrounding town, there are moments where their lives are filled with pure elation.
Their wireless set named ‘Marconi’ provides music which enables the characters to forget and be transported to their youth which was free of trouble.
Whatley defines this through the elevating scene which shows the sisters becoming overjoyed by the prospect of going to The Harvest Dance. The audience hear traditional Irish folk music blasting from the wireless set as the sisters loose all inhibitions on stage; they dance on the kitchen tables, spin around the kitchen and use crockery to drum out the classic rhythms.
Whatley perfectly evokes a feeling out of his audience at moments like these. The joy from the sisters is infectious but the nearby presence of Michael reminds us of their harrowing future.