Nothing lost here

	Gavan Guilfoyle and Patrick Weldon in Translations, with Jacqueline Milne and Rhona Richards
 Philip Dutton

Gavan Guilfoyle and Patrick Weldon in Translations, with Jacqueline Milne and Rhona Richards  Philip Dutton

Theatre: New World Theatre Club’s production of Brian Friel’s Translations is beautifully balanced.

The stone wall cellar of the Check Inn provides the perfect venue for New World Theatre Club’s production of Translations. Littered with historical and mythological references, in a distinctly rural setting, the play’s set (neatly designed by the company’s regular Karl Pierce) requires little more than a few well-placed items of antique rustic furniture and a straw-strewn floor to convince the audience we are indeed in a hedge school in the remote Donegal village of Baile Beag in 1833.

The setting and the inclusion in the cast list of British troops from the Royal Engineers may lead to the misconception that Translations is a political play about the Irish struggle, when it is actually more about the very basic human condition--the need for a home, companionship, love. Brian Friel demonstrates with wit and subtlety, with beautiful language and clever characterisation, that these things we take for granted are fragile and subject to the vagaries of others.

The hedge school is run by the vociferous and scholarly Hugh Mor O’Donnell, who takes delight in citing Latin and Greek and in quizzing his charges (played by Peter Milne, Rhona Richards, Seanán Ó Coistín, Sarah Carty and Jacqueline Milne) on etymology. Patrick Weldon delivers a wonderfully clamorous “master”, a benevolent Mr. Bumble if you will, whose fondness for libations requires his younger son Manus (debutant Martin Campion) to take over his class on occasion. Manus is a deeply frustrated young man, lame since birth and seeking better fortune so that he can marry Maire, the beautiful and feisty redhead who is keen to learn English so that she can “progress” in the world--maybe even emigrate to America.


The arrival of Manus’s bold brother Owen (Gavan Guilfoyle), who has been away in Dublin, as the translator and local guide for a platoon of Royal Engineers, causes great excitement in the village. Guilfoyle’s introduction also lights up the play after a rather slow and at times stuttering start. His natural performance brings out the best in those playing opposite him, and the other actors grow in confidence as the play progresses.

The troops led by the patronising Captain Lancey (an in form Mike West) are in the area to make a map, the first ever Ordnance Survey, and to rename the place names in English. Charged with the latter task is the sensitive George Yollande (Julien Farlin), who is revealed to be as equally lost as Manus, yet finds his spiritual home in Donegal’s rural natural beauty. More importantly, he also finds love. It is Yollande, the uneasy Englishman, who does most to defend the Irish language and its lyrical if etymologically confused place names while Owen, who initially acquiesces but then good naturedly rails against the English officers anglicising his name, finds the Gaelic names nonsensical. Frenchman Farlin delivers an assured performance--his key scene with Guilfoyle is one of the highlights of this production. The other is between Farlin and the excellent Rhona Richards as Maire, in a beautifully balanced exchange that demonstrates that love can break down linguistic barriers. Never before has a list of names read from a map carried such sensual frisson. Director John Turnbull must be congratulated for showing restraint and allowing his actors to make the most of the text.

That scene highlights Friel’s extraordinary dexterity in cleverly playing off the English and Gaelic languages by using only the former in his text. Yet by making Latin and Greek the subject of frivolous intellectual and sometimes pompous exchanges between Hugh and the drunkard Jimmy Jack (Peter Milne) he underlines both the crucial context and modern impracticality of those ancient languages. Just as his play delves into a history that should never be forgotten, but should be used to ensure progress rather than hinder it.

Translations is on at the Check Inn, route de Trèves, Findel, every evening at 8 p.m. until Saturday November 16.

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