Dancing at Lughnasa

Tue 1st – Sat 5th December 2015

reviews

Joe Jukes

at 11:10 on 2nd Dec 2015

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Dancing at Lughnasa promised tragic fates intermingled with moments of ‘humour and wild abandon’, this Irish tale provided a good look at rural family life, but lacked variety.

The story follows five sisters living in rural Ireland, caught in a conservative community before the outbreak of WWII, holding onto their way of life in a changing world. A pre-set cast was used effectively in setting the scene, a hub of activity that continued throughout the piece, showcasing all sorts of crafts. The ever tricky sight-lines of the Corpus Playroom played on my mind as I examined the set. The stage was bisected with wooden frames and appliances, indicating an outdoor/indoor divide as well as utilising a large table, shelves and several chairs. My worries of cramped performance were quickly resolves however, as the women bustled in character in and out of the space, even dancing and spinning around with ease. The set in fact supported the whole piece and really came into its own as the family inside would crane their necks through door frames and windows to catch a glimpse of the (bizarrely more intimate) outside garden.

Unfortunately, acting could have been a little improved for the show to really glow. Age differences amongst the sisters were not entirely realised and this caused interactions to largely have the same tone, losing nuance and variation. Certain parts needed deeper characterisation, while others needed to be made bigger – the cast showed talent certainly, but as characters they were neither caricature nor nuanced which failed the show’s naturalistic take. This said, Alex Ciupka’s role as ‘Maggie’ stood out as believable and suitably acted-up to suit the nostalgic hindsight of the narration, and was a pleasure to watch.

Removing Michaela from the main story as she reflected on her childhood was a strong directorial decision, assuming this wasn’t in the script. It aided the cursory glances to the past and left a void where she could have been onstage, unable to conceive of her own reflection. McGrath, playing Micheala did have a tendency to act through her hand throughout which was slightly disappointing. For all these little niggles, however, ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ provided a lovely insight into the intermingling of pagan and Christian faiths, amidst the rural ‘ideal’ of the 1930’s. Music, costume, accent and text brought life and a sense of reality to the play and the audience was transported over to the town Ballybeg. The only trouble was that this was all the play offered, unfortunately not delivering the humour and whimsy Friel’s play can provide. The strength of the piece comes from the era, from conservatism amidst change and from the way in which our memories are coloured rose with nostalgia.

Dancing at Lughnasa encaptured this magically and I’d recommend heading to Corpus to watch it before the week is out.

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