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Blewbury Players - Dancing at Lughnasa

18th to 21st July 2001.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Atmosphere in the family

Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel: Blewbury Players, at the Garden Theatre, Blewbury from 18th to 21st July

Blewbury’s open-air Garden Theatre made a perfect setting for Brian Friel’s poignantly humorous story of Irish rural life in the 1930s, with the simple cottage interior leading out to the wider expanses of garden. The five Mundy sisters, Kate, Maggie, Agnes, Rose and Chris, live with Chris’s young son Michael and uncle Jack, a missionary priest recently returned from Africa. The story charts the events that, in the course of a few weeks, cause the seemingly strong and secure family to disintegrate.

Kate is the eldest and is responsible for running the family. Near the start, when the women break into a spontaneous dance, it is Kate who is dancing by herself, intense and serious inside the house while the others rush around hand in hand in the garden. It is Kate who first sees that it is all about to collapse, and Jane Gibson played the part with a depth of feeling that was most moving.

Louisa Esplin played Maggie as good-natured, humorous and easy going, in contrast with Anne Scullard’s more serious and self-centred Aggie, still trying to distance herself from Michael’s father Gerry (Steve White). Gill Stone, as Chris, gave an impressive performance, showing youthful exuberance with the women, and hanging on the feckless Gerry’s every word. Maria Robertson was bouncy and enthusiastic as Rose. The five women all gave strong performances and were a convincing family. However, I felt that director Erica Harley didn’t succeed in bringing out the vulnerability of Rose; we could see that she was being protected by her sisters, but the fact that Rose isn’t very bright wasn’t made clear.

James Turpin was the narrator, and also played Michael. The narration is an important part of the story, but his tendency to shout, to project his voice, lost some of the subtlety. John Jones was very good as Jack, starting off diffident and frail and, with the sisters’ help, steadily gaining confidence and strength.

To my inexpert ear, the Donegal accents (like Ulster, only softer) were well done. As Michael said, recalling his childhood, atmosphere is more real than incident, and the atmosphere in this production was spellbinding.