According to the author his 1980 play Translations is simply about language. And on one level it is. But there's no getting away from its more potent theme of dispossession – a theme that has made the play a favourite amongst audiences of smaller nations who for centureis have been bullied by their neighbours.
It's the 1840s and the English and their language are sweeping away the archaic and feeble structures of a Gaelic society that had no strength to resistthem – other than Doalty's occasional gesture.
Directed by Roger Haines with a rustic style the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School production revived Friel's drama set in Baile Baig and took us back to the Irish hedge school where more putin was consumed by the pupils than literature or science. James Enser had put together a very believable barn complete with tools, barrels, benches and unlimited amounts of hay.
Greg Skipton's lighting and Alex Ball's lighting all added to Anna Michaels’ evocative set. All it needed was a couple of live hens and it would have been complete. Particularly effective was the use of ghostly Celtic words that appeared against the backdrop when they were mentioned – literally words from the past that were being extinguished by Captain Lancey (Matt Christian Reed) and his collaborator translator Owen (Peter Hoggart).
It's another first rate performance from the company and also a production with the highest of standards
The play is famous for not having any Gaelic in it despite the official language of the Irish being at the centre of the story. Those in the cast who played Irish characters spoke with a soft southern Irish accent which in the main was successful with only the odd Anglo Saxon vowel slipping out. The two characters who could see opportunities with the new masters of the land were excellent. Nora Wardell as Maire as the woman who was desperate to learn English and make a new life for herself in America seemed to have emerged from a peat bog in the mists of a Celtic fable of fairies and giants such was her Irishness. And Peter Hoggart as the translator Owen was less encumbered by an Irish brogue and convinced as the brother on the make and a disciple of Daniel O'Donnell's new catholic mercantile class.
Another excellent performance came from Joe Jameson as the romantically naive Yolland. An English soldier who had fallen in love with Baile Baig and with Maire. He was master of his stutteringly sensitive character – eager to please – but also unaware of the danger he was falling into. There were also strong performances from Alasdair Buchan as the classic's teacher who seemed blind to the needs of his charges – his son Manus (Charlie Morton) – and his ‘infant protégé' Jimmy (Oliver Hoare). Tala Gouveia (Sarah), Heather Johnson (Bridget) and Tom Weston-Jones (Doalty) completed the fine ensemble cast.
It's another first rate performance from the company and also a production with the highest of standards – transforming the auditorium into a believable slice of rural Ireland.
Venue: Tobacco Factory, Bristol
Runs until 26 June 2010