Watermill - Dancing at Lughnasa
31st July to 7th September 2002.
This is the Newbury Weekly News review.
As warm as Irish whiskey
'DANCING AT LUGHNASA', at The Watermill, from Wednesday, July 31 to Saturday, September 7
The August harvest is a perfect time for the Watermill to stage 'Dancing at Lughnasa'. Set in Ballybeg, Donegal, against the pagan ritual of an offering of the first-cut corn to the god Lugh and young people up to shenanigans in the hills, the play is as warming as Irish whiskey and considered one of Brian Friel's finest.
This is the Newbury Theatre view.
I've just spent a week in Ireland, including Donegal where Brian Friel's play is set in 1936. The Donegal towns of 2002 remind me of Newbury about 25 years ago, so to visualise Ballybeg in 1936 you have to turn the clock back an age.
The story of the five sisters whose lives are torn apart over the course of a summer is poignant and sad, yet humorous. They form a very believable family: Kate (Mary Conlon) is the serious school marm, allowing herself to relax slightly in intense, spontaneous dancing; Maggie (Caroline Lennon) is a bouncy extrovert; Aggie (Dido Miles) is more intense and secret, but unable to hide her feelings for the feckless Jack Evans; Chris (Aoife McMahon) is youthful and enthusiastic, still holding a torch for Jack; and Rose... this was an outstanding portrayal by Patricia Gannon of poor vulnerable Rose, not too bright, but fiercely protected by her sisters.
Daniel Coonan was Chris's son Michael and the narrator, and Hywel Morgan as Gerry convincingly transformed from the diffident, confused priest returning from Africa in disgrace into a man at ease with himself while refusing to go along with the sisters' attempts to make him conform. Peter Dineen played the smooth talking Welshman Jack, although surprisingly with an English accent. The set was basic, as you'd expect, but the background of wheat looked too neat and weed-free (wot, no poppies?).
I've seen several productions of this play, as well as the film, and I always find it very moving and atmospheric. Director Jonathan Munby, perhaps constrained by the Watermill's size, gave us a thoughtful, intimate version of the play that was delightful and touching.