Dancing at Lughnasa

Mon 11th – Sat 23rd June 2012

reviews

Katie Sands

at 00:47 on 12th Jun 2012

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The Tobacco Factory never fails to succeed, and once again has produced an enthralling evening’s entertainment for young and old alike, with Dancing at Lughnasa. Written by Brian Friel and directed by Sue Wilson, this inventive production is of an impressively high standard.

Set in twentieth century Ireland, the story unfolds through adult Michael Evans’ recounting of his favourite childhood summer memories in the fictional town of Ballybeg in Donegal. Michael’s mother and her four sisters, all unmarried, become the centrepiece to this captivating story.

The show’s set provides the perfect complement to the authentic pastel coloured floral pinafores and lace dresses worn by the Mundy sisters. Filled with higgledy piggledy pottery, multi-coloured patchwork throws and framed Biblical scenes, the kitchen setting provides the central focus for much of the story’s spectacle. This authenticity continues with the almost daily production of Irish soda bread, bilberry jam and other Irish delights to nourish the family.

The most impressive scene, truly bringing the characters to life, was that of the Celtic Harvest Festival of Lughnasa. Encouraged by the spontaneity and unreliability of the music produced by the family’s wireless set, one by one each sister smears plain flour over each of the others' cheeks. From this they are transformed, becoming enthusiastic dancers moving around the wooden kitchen table. Their vibrancy infiltrated the audience uplifted us with their vitality. The sisters’ are initially persuaded to dance by Aggie (the sibling coincidentally possessing the most notable knitting talents), who exclaims “we’re off, we’re away…I want to dance!” This did, however, come to an abrupt halt with the radio predictably overheating midway through the celebration!

Great praise must be given to the undeniably brilliant acting of the cast. Each cast member gave a spectacular performance, and the ability of the Mundy sisters to create dynamic relationships between themselves was particularly impressive. The actresses represented the sisters through amazing facial expressions, which perfectly defined their individual characters and simultaneously created contrasting scenes of both sibling tension and love throughout the performance.

Showing from 11th to 23rd June at the Tobacco Factory, Dancing at Lugnasa is a delight to watch and thoroughly recommended to those seeking an evening of an inspiring storyline and theatrical talent.

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Ellen Smyth

at 10:41 on 12th Jun 2012

0agrees

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Dancing at Lughnasa explores rudimentary rural life for the five Mundy sisters living in Donegal, Ireland. Our narrator is a young Michael Evans who recounts the summer of 1936, living with his aunts in a cottage aged just 7 years old. The production goes off to a sailing start with his solo violin performance. Likewise, his contemplative monologues are the thread which holds this muddled play together. Without these miniature monologues there might be an unbridgeable disparity in audience understanding, which could threaten our ability to follow how the memory unfolds. Instead, this is a well-paced and thoughtful performance which gives structure to the play.

Bristol Old Vic Theatre School matched up to the usual standard seen at the Tobacco Factory, with its delicately embellished set design and costume. There is also a strong musical and lyrical element to Dancing at Lughnasa; teamed with charming folk songs and dance this brought it to life, with laughter throughout. I would almost go as far as to say the star of the show is the girl’s treasured radio ‘Marconi’, whose Celtic songs bring joy to a group of young women on the cusp of change. Most notable of all is the dynamic relationship between the cast members which is the core of this successful spectacle.

The five Mundy sisters appear initially as a gaggle of giggling girls. But by re-visiting memories from a hazy past, hinting at both love and loss, they find solace in remembering. It is this which allows them to move forwards, to evolve, and to eventually confront an uncertain reality.

When Kate Mundy says “For God’s sake, would you look at that fool of a woman?” You can't help but wonder, which one? Maggie possesses a boisterous nature in bucket loads as a sparkling jester with unnerving wit. The true comic is Leigh Quinn who shines as Rose - captured wonderfully by Quinn as both playful and sincere in equal measure. Of the remaining siblings, the introspective Agnes is contrasted and balanced by whimsical Christina. Meanwhile, Kate Mundy reminds us of the pivotal role of religion, both implicitly and explicitly, in Irish life. Kate is played extremely well by Jennifer Greenwood who becomes most identifiable with during her emotional breakdown towards the end of the first half. It is here that the sisters begin to unravel – the fragility caused by societal challenges is evident in the subtle vulnerability of the characters. Director Sue Wilson has executed this faultlessly to show loss of control in an increasingly disillusioned rural environment. If anything, I would have liked to see more of these turbulent exchanges. The play can be further contextualised when we consider the backdrop of the industrial revolution which reached some parts of Ireland almost 200 years later than in England. This is symbolised by the opening of a knitwear factory which acts as a catalyst to move the play along.

There is certainly something of Jane Austen’s Bennet sisters reflected in the Mundy girls. The lack of marital success, the search for love and liberty and the struggle to conform to social conventions are easily identifiable links. Perhaps the Mundy sisters could present an answer to the question, ‘what becomes of the young women who do not find their Mr. Darcy..?’ This similarity is particularly evident in the Lydia Bennet-esque wild and giddy natures of Maggie or Christina Mundy. And indeed comparisons can also be drawn between sombre Mary Bennet and pious Kate Mundy.

Within the narrative there are some loose ends remaining: is Aggie pining after the self-professed entrepreneur Gerry Evans? What is it about the Pagan festival that the sisters so object to? I thoroughly recommend going to see this wonderful, glittering play to find the answers yourselves.

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Comments

Bristol Old Vic Theatre School WORLD CLASS TRAINING; 12th Jun 2012; 15:41:04

It's actually LEIGH QUINN who plays Rose! Although Sophie Thompson is one of our alumni.

Bristol Old Vic Theatre School WORLD CLASS TRAINING; 12th Jun 2012; 15:49:08

And yes, the Tobacco Factory is indeed wonderful but this is a BRISTOL OLD VIC THEATRE SCHOOL production! If you could please make that clear, that would be great. Lovely reviews. Thank you!

Helena Blackstone; 13th Jun 2012; 14:09:20

All changed - hope that's clearer and sorry for the confusion!

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