I had the very great pleasure of attending the recent production of "Dancing at Lughnasa" at Kilcullen Town Hall. It was a very fine interpretation of a complex play and I would like to congratulate all concerned both front stage and back. As one of the possible comparative study texts in the Leaving Certificate English examination, I was there with a contingent of my own students who are studying the play for their exam in June. I was delighted that they got to view such a high quality performance and from our own local drama group too. I said on the night and it bears repeating, that I have viewed the play a number of times, both professional and amateur productions, and I have never seen such a complete ensemble piece and such a clear and moving interpretation of all the characters.
For those of you unfortunate not to have caught up with this performance, "Dancing at Lughnasa" is a play set in the fictional "Small town" of Ballybeg in Donegal in the mid 1930s. The Mundy family are the central characters five sisters and three males, their brother Jack a returned missionary priest, Michael the son of youngest sister Christina, and the elusive Gerry Evans, Michael's absentee father. Their story is told by the narrator, an older Michael, telling us the tragic story of the family's disintegration over the course of one Summer in 1936. However, despite its ultimately heart-breaking tragedy, the Mundys' story has some moments of fine comedy and the sisters' resilience is portrayed in the opening section of the play in a very positive and heart-warming way. Maggie, expertly played by Siobhan Murphy has many of the funny moments, her coping strategy is to joke and try to raise the family's spirits through humour. Rose played by Eilis Phillips is the innocent, protected by all the sisters, but, especially the gentle Agnes played by Mary-Clare Me Mahon. Kate, the eldest, seems the careworn, bossy schoolmarm - but she can dance briefly at Lughnasa too. Friel's masterly writing reveals the humanity of all his characters, even the weak and caddish Gerry, played with a lovely Welsh lilt by Phil Cummins. Fr. Jack, the absentminded, malarial priest who has "Gone native," played with understated humour and sympathy by Maurice O'Mahony, is in many ways a key catalyst for the decline and fall of the Mundys from their position of "Small town" respectability. The final Mundy sister, Michael's mother Chris, is played by Charlene Kilroy. She is tom between her need to believe in the romantic dream-world Gerry creates and her despair when he fails her yet one more time. The older Michael was a tour-de-force performance from Donagh Noone of a technically very difficult part involving long monologues and the ability to re-inhabit the mindset of a seven year old boy voiced from the side of the stage by his older self.
No one actor can be singled out for the greatest praise. It was a true ensemble piece where all contributed to the emotional effect of the play. Congratulations to all.
I can't conclude this review without mentioning the excellent production values of the play. The set was a small masterpiece of 1930s authenticity - Mischa, Tara and Emer Fekete and Fiona Sloan and Frankie Mitchell must also take their bows for set, props, lighting and sound - all of which added immeasurably to the power of the production. The music alone which is very specific to the era must have been hard to track down and fitted seamlessly into the night's entertainment. An extremely professional job was done by all. If! haven't name-checked you, please consider yourselves thanked at this point for your efforts on behalf of this excellent production.
However, there are two final people to whom I wish to pay tribute, John Martin the Director and Evelyn O'Sullivan the Producer. Producing this play entails an awful lot of work to get it this right. I hope that all concerned know how worth it their efforts were, and, that the attention to detail displayed made two Summer days in 1936 come alive for your audience. John Martin's direction showed a sensitive understanding of the issues in the play and a warm appreciation of Friel's characters' strengths and weaknesses. The growing sense of entrapment and the competing values of the Pagan or instinctual versus the conventional Christianity of Ballybeg provides for a very nuanced drama. It is to John's credit that he subtly teases all of these strands out during the play. A revival of this production would be a must-see.
(Rosemary teaches English & History at CPC)