‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ made its highly anticipated debut at The Gaiety Theatre on Tuesday, October 6th. The play celebrated its 25th anniversary this year so it was an obvious choice for the Dublin Theatre Festival. The play’s debut coincided however, with the sad passing of its author Brian Friel, so inevitably this run of performances has been especially poignant.
However, Friel’s passing has clearly motivated the cast to put on a show-stopping performance and it was undeniably the perfect tribute to one of Ireland’s greatest playwrights.
The opening monologue was delivered by Michael Evans, played by Charlie Bonner, and with ease he transported the audience back to 1930s Ireland where he was at home with his aunts, the Mundy sisters, in the small town of Ballybeg.
The Mundy sisters were then left to their own devices on stage, and with the same back drop throughout, they managed to show a repressed, close-minded Ireland within their small house, reflecting Friel’s ability to make the local universal.
The infamous ‘wireless’ served as a focal point throughout the play, representing the freedom they yearned for. One of the most memorable scenes of the production is when they all lose themselves to the music coming from the wireless and dance around the kitchen.
To them it is not just any dance, it is a moment in time when they are free from repression, free from the restrictions this life has forced on them. All of the actresses completely lose themselves within this scene and it is obvious they are thoroughly enjoying this form of self-expression on behalf of the Mundy sisters.
This spontaneous form of expression is swiftly cut short by Kate Mundy, played by Catherine McCormack, who serves as the voice of reason throughout the play, when she reminds the sisters of what society expects of them.
Catherine delivered an incredibly apt performance of strict national school teacher Kate Mundy, her authoritarian role complimented by Rosie Mundy, played by Mary Murray, who provided much needed comic relief throughout the play.
However, the show was undoubtedly stolen by Cara Kelly who plays Maggie Mundy. Cara embraced her character to the fullest, showing Maggie to be the reasonable, emotionally intelligent and the humorous woman that Friel intended her to be.
Religion played a pivotal role throughout the production as it does in most of Friel’s work. Declan Conlon did an outstanding job of portraying the conflict of ideas surrounding religion through his character Father Jack.
The Gaiety stage served as the perfect backdrop to the play, the set and costumes all helped to give the best Dancing at Lughnasa experience.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when the play ended and director Willie White delivered a moving tribute to Brian Friel. It was clear the playwright meant a lot to the production team, as well as the actors, and this was undoubtedly reflected in their performance.