Review: Brian Friel’s Translations at the Abbey Theatre
Brian Friel’s Translations is known as a “modern masterpiece”. It was first produced in the Guild Hall in Derry in 1980 by the Field Day theatre company, also established in 1980 by the gifted Brian Friel and his equally gifted actor friend, Stephen Rea. There must surely have been more than the average opening night nerves given the subject matter – the anglicisation of Irish life.
It’s late August 1833. At a hedge school in the small Irish speaking village of Baile Beag, the pupils gather for their evening class. They worry about potato blight, gossip about a new baby’s father and make fun of the Royal Engineers from England recently arrived to survey the area.
However, as good-will and relationships with the English grow, hostility does too – with devastating consequences.
Translations was highly entertaining – there was a full house and everyone seemed to giggle along at the right parts. The setting in a hedge school meant that most people were flung back to their own school days while watching – we all knew a Doalty who permanently hovered at the back of the class hoping not to be asked a question and being tremendously delighted when they got it right. Rory Nolan as Doalty was interesting and believable. The highlight though for me was Denis Conway as Hugh. His presence took over the stage whenever he was on it and although we might not have understood all of what he said (my Greek and Latin are a bit rusty!) he was always compelling viewing and unmissable.
Translations is ultimately about language and how we communicate as humans. Set at a time when the British Army had been sent to map the Ireland and to anglicise (or “standardise”) the local place names as well as the time of the introduction of National Schools where only English would be spoken, the people are faced with the challenge of learning English or being lost. But Máire and her young love, Lt. Yolland communicate perfectly without ever speaking the same language – is the purpose of one language over another overestimated? Sarah, one of the young students at the hedge school, communicates only with sign language and also makes herself understood for the most part.
A “modern masterpiece” indeed, you should make sure to see Translations before it leaves the Abbey stage. To see a Friel play on the Abbey stage is a treat and if you have an interest in language, etymology, history or love you should definitely make the effort to see it.
Translations is playing at the Abbey Theatre until 13th August 2011. Monday to Saturday evening, 7.30pm. Saturday matinee 2pm. Tickets €13 – €40.
You can book tickets online on abbeytheatre.ie or by calling the Box Office on 01 878 7222.
Thank you to Maura in the Abbey Press Office for organising review tickets.