Dancing at Lughnasa
Pictured above: Patrick Galligan as Michael, with Claire Jullien as Agnes and Diana Donnelly as Rose, in Dancing at Lughnasa. Photo by David Cooper.
Slider Image: (l to r): Peter Millard as Father Jack, Fiona Byrne as Kate, Tara Rosling as Maggie, Claire Jullien as Agnes, Sarena Parmar as Christina, Diana Donnelly as Rose and Kristopher Bowman as Gerry in Dancing at Lughnasa. Photo by David Cooper.
To understand Dancing at Lughnasa one must have some insight into playwright Brian Friel. An Irish dramatist and short story writer, Friel was born in Northern Ireland in 1929 and spent a decade of his life as a Catholic schoolteacher. While teaching, he began writing plays and earned the distinction of being one of the leading playwrights of the twentieth century. Dancing at Lughnasa is thought to be the most autobiographical of the 24 plays he wrote.
Lughnasa is a play told through the memory of Michael, the illegitimate son of Christina Munday, played by Sarena Parmar. Michael is an older version of his young self and is portrayed by Patrick Galligan, who is present on the stage whilst the actors play to the imaginary little boy. Michael lives with his mother and her four sisters Kate, Rose, Agnes and Maggie. Interestingly enough Friel had aunts with the same name and his mother was named Mary Christina but preferred to be called Christina. The parallels are only moderately similar as his father Patrick Friel, was also a schoolteacher and his parent were very much married.
Kate Munday, played brilliantly by Fiona Reid, is the matriarch of the family and is a schoolteacher herself, she is the bones of the family dynamic and we are soon given the impression the most stable of all of them. Christina, Michael’s mother is hopelessly in love with the town lady’s man, Gerry, played by Kristopher Bowman. Bowman’s character is flawed on so many levels but Christina, as much as she tries, continues to buy into his promises and dreams that someday they will marry and become a happy family.
Claire Jullien is Agnes the more reserved sister and Rose portrayed by Shaw veteran Diana Donnelly is perceived as a slightly “slow”. The pair make knitted gloves and scarves to help with the family finances, neither are married or in possession of a ‘full deck’.
Tara Rosling is brilliant in her portrayal of Maggie, she is the chief cook and bottle washer and also the biggest dreamer of the lot.
Enter Father Jack, the ladies brother, freshly back from a lifetime in Africa. Jack went through to be a priest but the bohemian ways he adopted in Africa have left him somewhat odd. What unfolds is a slice of life in early 19th century Ireland as technology and the industrial revolution start to change the landscape of everyday existence.
The ladies all put in stellar performances, passionate and believable as their characters come to life in this not-so-happy tale of life in rural Ireland. Their futures are not promising, but bleak, as they all find themselves in varying degrees of unemployment. Their brother is not helping with his noncomformist ways in a community ruled by the Catholic Church.
Quite simply Friel takes you down the road of dreams that never come true. Fortunately there is plenty of well-placed humour and a faulty radio to break up the dismal existence of the women and as you leave the Royal George theatre you have plenty to think about.
Dancing at Lughnasa runs til October 6 and tickets are available by visiting www.shawfest.com
By Jenifer Cass