BRIAN Friel’s semi-autobiographical play Dancing at Lughnasa and first performed in 1990, is set in County Donegal in 1936 seen from a child’s eyes and from the perspective of that child, grown up, many years later.
Writer Michael Evans revisits the harvest festival of Lughnasa when he was a six- year-old boy living with his mother and her four sisters. It’s an elegiac memory, combining Wordsworth’s celebrated “emotions recollected in tranquility” and the strand of plays in which the (male) writer looks back on his childhood or youth as a narrator.
Widely praised as one of Friel’s most beautiful and lasting plays, it was chosen by Lois Harbinson and Street Theatre for the spring production at Strode Theatre in Street, performed on a simple and evocatively lit set and introduced by plangent flute music.
Michael, the love child of Christina Mundy and her charming, feckless Welsh salesman Gerry, watches as the family he has known disintegrates in pre-war tension and industrialisation.
The oldest Mundy sister, teacher Kate (a stunning performance by Jane Sayer) calls on her faith to hold it all together. But when her famous missionary priest brother returns from Uganda under a cloud, her job is put at risk and the youngest sister, the simple Rose, gets involved with a married man from the village, the family is shaken beyond endurance.
Michael, sitting in the garden making un-flyable kites, observes his aunts, his uncle, and mostly the dancing that brings them all together.
With (mostly) excellent accents and an authentic period atmosphere, this strong company weaves Friel’s magic on the audience at the Strode Theatre in Street. Karen Trevis is the charismatic, joyful and enterprising Maggie, with Hilary Quinlan the insular Agnes whose singular relationship with her nearest sibling Rose (a fragile Eliane Morgan) separates her from her older sisters.
Neil Howiantz is delightfully fey as the priest gone native, and Iain Muton-Phillips the dancing Welsh seducer. Phil Turley’s Michael is both the adult searching his past for forgotten snippets and the boy who has learned what special things he can expect from his mother (Charlotte Hide) and each of his aunts.
My most abiding memory of this production will be of Kate Mundy wandering out into the garden for a slow and tentative solo step dance, before she joins her more spontaneous sisters around Marconi the Radio.