Dancing at Lughnasa

by Brian Friel; dirAnn Brooks
Talisman Theatre, Kenilworth
23 – 28 April 2012

Dancing at Lughnasa (pron. Loonasa) is a touching story of Irish country life in the 1930s that alternates between narration and action. The narration is conducted by Michael as a grown man reminiscing about the small house in which he lived with his mother and four aunts. The rest of the time the action takes place on the set – a representation of that house. In these scenes, the seven-year-old Michael’s presence is mimed by the others and his words are spoken by the adult Michael from his position at the side.

The five sisters have a poor but contented lifestyle, and during the story this is interrupted by two men. One is old Uncle Jack, returned from many years of being a missionary in Uganda and finding it hard to adapt to life back at home. The other is Michael’s lively but unreliable father, Gerry, who occasionally visits, proposes to Michael’s mother, makes various promises and then departs to pursue his latest scheme for money or glory.

The overall feel is of the warmth that memory can bring as it glosses over hardships, and a longing a lost past. The five sisters act as an ensemble with varying degrees of success, but are overall adequate and occasionally excellent. The two sisters who stood out were Sarah Campbell as eldest sister Kate, convincingly carrying their world on her shoulders at times, and Emily Tuff as the irrepressible Maggie. Andrew Bayliss played Michael skilfully, but I felt that his style was a little harsh and jarred somewhat with the warmth of the scenes, which were after all meant to be his memories.

But the story would not move along without the two visitors. Gerry was reasonably well played by Tom Garner, who had charisma and energy but lacked some naturalism. Jack was played by experienced hand John Fenner and it showed. His fond memories of his time in Uganda and the tribal gatherings and rituals he took part in were really captivating and delivered with a pleasant innocence, oblivious to the scandalising effect this was having on the Catholic sensibilities of the sisters, particularly Kate.

A pleasant evening out, but with a little more polish it could have been a must-see.

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