Dancing at Lughnasa, Lyric Theatre

Felicity McKee, Contributor


Dancing at Lughnasa, set in the rural village of Ballybeg in Donegal, capturing the pivotal moments of change that are both individual and simultaneously impact the family dynamic and society as a whole at this time. It is a snapshot narrated from the perspective of Michael, leading us through his memories of that year’s festival of Lughnasa in 1936 and the far-reaching consequences of the change that is occurring.

The Lyric Theatre has undertaken the momentous task of showcasing this classic play by Brian Friel in its 25th year, with director Annabelle Comyn perfectly capturing the play amidst high expectations, truly bringing the production to life. Michael and the audience were treated to a feast for the senses, sight sound and even taste (there were soda farls during the interval) aiding the nostalgic trip back to 1936. The interplay of these aspects with audiences were a key part of the show without distracting from the narrative. This level of detail is in part thanks to the crew who left no detail untouched.

Costume design by Joan O’Cleay deserves mention, not only for capturing time period but for characterising the players; the prim and proper nature of Kate, the laid back look of Maggie and the decrepit and confused nature of Father Jack. Characterisation was furthered by Liz Roche’s choreography, capturing the persona of individual character’s through the alternatives styles of dance they displayed. Kate’s more traditional Irish dancing for example presented a stark contrast to the more free-form movements of her sisters.

Photo: Ros Kavanagh
Photo: Ros Kavanagh

Of the night were two standout performances; Catherine McCormack as Kate Mundy and Mary Murray as Rose Mundy. They successfully captured the almost polar opposite nature of their characters whilst subtly reflecting that they were far more similar than realised when it came to their varying levels of innocence. The relationship between Rose and her sisters was excellent, not just in the quality of the writing but in the delivery, with many in the audience commenting afterwards on the authenticity that Murray brought to the role.

Another gem to this play is the fact that it is filled with individual well-rounded female characters which contrast what we would expect of this time period. They are strong, resilient, and even in the face of social exclusion, welcome Christina’s illegitimate son Michael into the family. They are in essence feminists, and although this is not a new play these characters are acted out freshly and convincingly.

Dancing at Lughnasa is well-worth seeing, the Lyric Theatre offering not just a compelling retelling of a classic Irish play but also a great showcase of good theatre; meticulously staged with excellent costume and sound management.

Dancing at Lughnasa is playing at the Lyric Theatre until September 27th

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