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Tale of true sisterhood is simply outstanding

Dancing at Lughnasa

Dancing at Lughnasa

Birmingham Rep

MY previous experience of Dancing at Lughnasa involved catching a snippet of a film version of Brian Friel’s acclaimed play. Despite boasting the talents of Meryl Streep, it didn’t do it for me.

The play itself is a world away from the big screen adaptation and it’s not long before you’re immersed in the ups and downs of the Mundy family in 1930s Donegal.

This is no ordinary family though but a mini-matriarchal society featuring five very different sisters.

Kate (Panny Laydan) is the school ma’am who rules the roost while Agnes (Elaine Symons) and the vulnerable Rose (Fiona O’Shaughnessy) earn a crust by knitting gloves.

Christina (Claire Rafferty) is the mother of a seven-year-old love child, something which one can imagine would have sent shock waves through a rural community in pre-war rural Ireland. Maggie (Siobhan McSweeney) is the happy go lucky one who seems more content with her lot than the rest.

Add to this their recently returned missionary brother Father Jack (Peter Gowen) and you have the melting pot for a myriad of emotional upheaval.

All are dreamers but none more than Gerry Evans, the father of Christine’s seven-year-old son Michael who drops by sporadically. Michael is the narrator but played as an adult looking back on his childhood by Barry Ward.

The action focuses on the sisters’ struggles and the convalescence of Father Jack, who seems to have left Uganda under a dark cloud.

The characters are wonderfully believeable in this bitter-sweet tale and the performances are outstanding all round.

But best of all is Friel’s spot on analysis of the hypocrisy of organised religion when it pits itself against so-called pagan and primitive practices.

It offers a wonderful exploration of the irony of Irish Catholicism looking down on the traditional religious rituals of Africa, without realising it’s a brand of Christianity that’s just a step away from the old religion it supposedly replaced.

Until March 6.

 

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