Review: Dancing at Lughnasa

By Hannah Forsyth

Brian Friel’s award-winning tale of a family in County Donegal is brought to the Drama Barn. York DramaSoc’s production of Dancing at Lughnasa is by turns touching, amusing and devastating.

Dancing at Lughnasa, a semi-autobiographical account of Friel’s childhood in Ireland, follows the lives of the Mundy family through one long summer in 1936. It premiered in Dublin in 1990 and has since enjoyed critical success in Britain and America. The story is remarkably self contained – the action unfolds in a small rural Irish house, through the lens of ordinary family life. The compact nature of the setting and plot makes it ideally suited to the Drama Barn, as the audience gain a sense of the intimacy and vulnerability of the Mundy family’s life.

Courtesy of Harry Elletson

The cast are uniformly excellent, tackling challenging roles and relationships with ease. The five sisters excel as a tightly knit unit, bickering and bouncing off each other and maintaining pace and energy through lengthy scenes. As Michael Evans, Tom Barry provides the audience with a quietly compassionate narrator, resisting the temptation to overplay the more emotionally charged moments and instead delivering his monologues with sincerity and maturity. Christian Loveless as Gerry Evans, and Matthew Ingram as Father Jack should also be commended for taking roles which have the potential to lean towards caricature and bringing nuance and genuine charm to their performances. It is a joy to watch the whole cast work together and there is a very palpable sense of the bonds between family members.

The actors also tackle the respective regional accents with reasonable aptitude. There is some variance in dialect and in the strength of different accents, but overall they are reasonably successful and the language of the script is handled with aplomb, particularly by Evie Jones’ Maggie Mundy.

Courtesy of Harry Elletson

As far as aesthetics are concerned, this production is in safe hands. The thoughtfully designed set handles the limitations of the Drama Barn while creating an intimate, familial environment. The costumes, while not entirely faithful to the period, are coordinated well to create a palette reminiscent of the late summer setting of the play, and also serve to underline the individual characters further. The individual elements combine to create the atmosphere of a story-book, further enhanced by subtle but effective lighting.

Overall, this is a play with a tremendous amount of heart. It tells a difficult story with care and respect, and strong production values and attention to detail create a thoroughly believable environment in which Friel’s story unfolds.

Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel, performnig at the Drama Barn this Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are available on the door and online (£4/5).

Courtesy of Harry Elletson

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