Tag Archives: Brian Friel

Translations: New Adventures in Language

Following the successful original 1980 production and subsequent tour of Translations by Field Day Theatre Company, Tom Paulin stated afterwards in 1983:

“The history of language is a story of possession and dispossession, territorial struggle and the establishment or imposition of a culture.”

Few plays and fewer playwrights have stirred the question of’ Irishness’ and nationhood as much as Translations by Brian Friel. Since it was staged all of thirty years ago, the first production of the fledgling Field Day Theatre Company, it has become synonymous with the Irish obsession with language, connection to home and to the landscape in which that home is situated.

Denis Conway and Aaran Monaghan. Image courtesy of Abbey Theatre

Translations was written in the shadow and direct backdrop of the Northern Ireland Troubles. Friel, himself a Derry-born Catholic, experienced life on the front-line of this turbulent and bloody time. The political nature of Translations has perhaps taken on a life of its own outside of its intended level of intervention. Friel has often set on record that Translations is not a political play but is only about language. While Friel may have chosen to defuse the situation and down play the political and Nationalist fervour the play has come to be associated with, this is not so readily achievable.

It was unthinkable for many in 1980 to foresee an Ireland that would have later see a Downing Street Declaration, a Good Friday Agreement, a power-sharing executive. Now, thirty years since Translations was premiered by Field Day Theatre Company in the imposing Guild Hall in Derry, for so many it is unthinkable how very real the fear, violence and sectarianism was in the North. Today’sIreland is one more attuned to peace but still tragically not immune to violence. The murder of RIC Constable Ronan Kerr and British army soldiers at Mesereence Barracks have provoked an outpouring and committed resolve for peace in the face of those deluded few who insist on failed violent means.

Translations tackled the question of language like no other play in Irish theatre. Friel recognised that while land and connection to home, wherever that may be, can actually be superseded by a truer from of identity: how we express and communicate. While the threat of violence, eviction and also references to the Great Famine hung over the village of Ballybeg, the idea of knowing one’s identity and place through words rather than physical landscape is the true essence and beauty of this play. As Manus taunts his father Hugh following the ‘standardisation’ of the local place-names, he says: “Will you be able to find your way?”

Friel’s contribution to the identity question surrounding ‘Irishness’ on both sides of the border has been explored in depth in Translations but also in his other ‘language’ plays – Making History and Faith Healer. Friel’s use of the colloquial and local dialogue and speech creates entirely real worlds where his characters are reflections of the society and place that has shaped them. Many similarities along this point can be also be seen in the work of playwright Billy Roche, who has become as synonymous with finding a connection to the thoughts and language of the people of his native Wexford as Friel found with people in the North of Ireland.

If by Fintan O’Toole’s definition of a ‘Powerplay’ – a work being political, challenging and reflective of society and identity, then perhaps Translations is the ‘Powerplay’. It is also crucial to consider, is it just a powerplay of it’s own time? And can it still carry such an impact on today’s audiences as it did in 1980’s Derry? Translations does still have much to offer contemporary Ireland. Earlier this year, the visit by Queen Elizabeth II allowed for a mass re-evaluation of the colonial relationship between Ireland and Great Britain. Our own ability to recognise this visit as one head of state visiting a global equal as opposed to a colonial satellite was key to the mature and considered welcome Queen Elizabeth received. Recent revisions of works such as the Playboy of the Western World in a version by Roddy Doyle and Bisi Adigan put that classic story on a modern footing in contemporary Dublin and explored how immigration was shaping Ireland and the actions, thoughts and words of its people. Also works by The Company, including Who is Fergus Kilpatrick and As You Are Now So Once Were We, go to new levels in exploring questions of connection to place, city, country and the individual. The Company took this challenge to completely new territory, moving outside of the traditional literary text and engaged technologies, forms and ideas that turn the questions of place and language on its axis.

Translations will rightly be a classic of it’s time and also any time. Its original staging in the Guild Hall in Derry will be remembered as being one the most powerful symbols of how theatre can reflect and present society as well as crossing boundaries that traditional communication cannot. It is a fantastic opportunity to see the powerplay once again on the national stage. It also affords us the opportunity to consider the next generation of powerplays and guess at where they will come from and what they will focus on. As Hugh says in the closing scenes of Translations; “We must never cease renewing those images; because when we do, we fossilise.”

Translations is on the Abbey Theatre Stage until Saturday 13th August.



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Posted by on August 9, 2011 in Abbey Theatre, Culture, Theatre


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Galway, Well, It Loves Theatre!

Nuns Island Theatre - Galway Loves Theatre

For the next two weeks, Nun’s Island Theatre will be taken over of near non-stop action. With four performances a day those who are caught up in Arts Festival fever will have ample choice to pick from. Groups such as Mephisto Theatre Company, Galway Youth Theatre and Vagabond Theatre Company, among others, are staging a series of works that range from the comedic, the political, the ridiculous to the deadly serious. The programme of events is directed by Páraic Breathnach.

Highlights include Mephisto Theatre’s Grenades which starred in Galway earlier this year at the Cùirt International Festival of Literature. A dark but engaging account of life in the North during the Troubles, Tara McEvitt’s play is brilliantly written and delivers a sincere and astute performance from its actor Emma O’Grady. In 2010 McKevitt won the RTE PJ O’Connor Award for the radio version of ‘Grenades’ and in June 2011 won a Gold Award at the New York Festivals Radio Awards. Tara is a participant on The Abbey Theatre’s New Playwrights Programme 2011/12. Grenades has been touring Ireland for the past few months and is a great opportunity to see this play on its return to Galway.

Love and Money written by Dennis Kelly is staged by Galway Youth Theatre/Galway Arts Festival. I saw a production of this play in 2008 at the Project Arts Centre by Hatch Theatre Company and seldom has a play stuck in my mind all this time later. The play examines the wreckage lives and relationships are left in when materialism and a culture of greed pervades society and the minds of people that live and interact with each other. A couple struggle in the face of debt to the point where suicide is felt to be the only option as an exit strategy. The play follows the lives of this stricken couple in a reverse and at times askew timeline that runs from debt, death, affairs to love, greed and materialism. In early 2008 this play was eerily resonant in face of what would happen economically in the coming months. Its selection here for inclusion in ‘Galway Loves Theatre’ is an excellent choice and an intimate reminder of where we were and how we were during Celtic Tiger Ireland in comparison to todays more ‘stringent’ times. This will be one to catch. Here is a clip from rehearsal of the production at the Project Arts Centre starring Barry Ward, Kate Ni Chonaonaigh and Will Irvine.

In keeping with current trends there appears to be a nationwide Friel season happening. With works by the great Lovers performed by Galway Youth Theatre. Written in 1967 Lovers consists of two self-contained mini-plays, one being Winners and the second being Losers. Following the lives of two couples and the social expectations and moral examination inflicted on them by neighbours and families, Friel presents their experiences through issues such as unmarried parenthood, Catholicism and family expectations, this is a good chance to see one of Friel’s lesser known works.

The joyously riotous Who Needs Enemies written by Conor Montague and brought crashing onto the stage by Vagabond Theatre Company. Described as a satire on Ireland in love with hedonism. Previously staged at the Bulmers Galway Comedy Festival and at the Body and Soul Music and Arts Festival, the play follows Eoin who returns to Galway following an enlightening trip to the Himalayan wilderness. Now detached from his previously destructive lifestyle, it is up to his beloved friends who chip away at his new-found serenity and drag him back to the dark side of drink, drugs and unregulated mayhem. Here is a clip of a typically ‘restrained’ scene from Who Needs Enemies:

These are of course just a flavour of what Galway Loves Theatre has to offer. There is plenty to satisfy all tastes and with tickets ranging from 12/14 euro, it is certainly at the more affordable end of theatre tickets these days. Performances are Monday to Friday 11th – 16th July and 18th – 23rd July and are at 1pm, 5pm, 8pm and 10pm and there are variances in productions between these weeks so check the programme for full details of performances and tickets.


Posted by on July 7, 2011 in Theatre


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On the Ropes – Billy Roche’s “Lay Me Down Softly”

Lay Me Down Softly

Billy Roche’s slugging drama “Lay Me Down Softly” invites the audience not into a theatre in the traditional sense but into the burlesque world of the travelling fairground and rather dank Academy Boxing Arena of Delaney’s Travelling Road Show. Set in 1960’s Ireland and parked somewhere along an unnamed stretch of a rural Irish town, Roche creates a world of has-bean boxers, fair-ground bosses, cut-men and fixers –  a group of men and women toughened by their past lives and cemented by their transient lives on the road in Ireland.

Theo, played by Gary Lydon, is the head of this wandering family, and rules it with quite some vigour. He treats this world as a business and seems to care little personally for his fighters and staff unless it affects their potential to perform in the boxing ring. Business is good for Theo until a pro-boxer, a bookie and a marksman that “must be in the FCA” threaten the welfare of the fair at this particular juncture. The unexpected arrival of his sixteen year old daughter, Emer,(Pagan McGrath) adds no extra stability to the already wavering applecart that is Delaney’s Travelling Boxing Academy.

This is a self-regulated society that Theo is judge and jury, A dishonest stall-hand, Rusty, find this out the hard way and signals that punishment by Theo is tolerated. “Let the word go forth”.

Peadar (Michael O’Hagan) is his aged but warm cut-man who has spent his life in sweat and blood filled gyms. Theo’s Gangster’s Moll, Lily, played by Simone Kirby, adds to the dynamic of relationships VS brotherhood VS sexuality that runs throughout Roche’s play. The journey-man Dean (Anthony Morris) and the ‘next-big-thing’, Junior,(Dermot Murphy) are the more like machines to Theo than people. They must be maintained and nourished, more profitable to him than Lily or his ex-wife Joy could be.

The travelling lifestyle of Theo and his crew seems to just about sustain them rather than let them live. Theo’s past wife and mother of Emer left life on the road and now Lily is desperately seeking to escape the small-town monotony that comprised her past life. These characters seem to always be escaping something, be it boredom, ex-loves, injuries or past lives.They are running and running and seldom stopping to truly consider where they are or what they are looking for. Emer asks Peadar at one stage “How can you tell where in the world you are from one day to the next?” with Peadar’s considered answer being “I’m good and lost wherever I am”. All their journeys did not start together but have intersected on the road and are stuck with each other, for better or for worse.

Gary Lydon

The insistence of memory and cast of characters that exist solely through recollections reminds me of another classic play of the memory form – Brian Friel’s “Faith Healer”. The travelling and wandering Frank Hardy has many similarities with Theo who, along with his crew, isolate themselves in a transient lifestyle with few trusted friends and even less stable relationships, where most is learned about the present state of the characters through solemn rendition of their memories.

The Wexford accents of the cast add to Roche’s ability to really write for the ear. He writes the local and makes it national. He creates this male dominated world of the boxing ring, full of “sweat and dust and blood” and allows it to be totally disarmed and any masculine facades broken down by the women in this play. While the men struggle to keep up the act of being tough enough or strong enough, basically being gladiators in the arena, they are completely inept in maintaining a lasting relationship. Emer’s attempts to convince Junior to ditch this life, not the life on the road, but just the life in the ring, is incredibly touching and poignant. While some in this crew lean on the ‘security’ of a life on the road and in the ring like a crutch, it is possible to escape. The real strength is realising when to get out and being willing to take any blow or punch to make this happen.

Lay Me Down Softly is at the Town Hall Theatre, Galway, until Saturday 18 June.

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Posted by on June 16, 2011 in Theatre


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