As the wind-up to the end of term starts we are presented with a cornucopia of concerts and plethora of performances to entice us away from our studies. DramSoc?s contribution is a production of Brian Friel's 'Translations'. In this play, Friel explores the importance of language in shaping personal and cultural identity against the backdrop of an 1830's rural Irish community poised on the brink of destruction.
The play is centred around a hedge school, run by Hugh O?Donnell (Sami Abu-Wardeh) and his son Manus (Andrew Somerville). Hedge schools were established in response to the ban on Roman Catholic education under the Penal Laws of 1710-1719, an act widely interpreted as an attempt to anglicize Ireland. Such a setting pre-empts the conflict that ensues when Hugh's youngest son Owen (Brandon Cano-Errecart) returns to the village as a Gaelic translator for the British Army, who are conducting the first ordnance survey of Ireland. In addition to mapping the area Lieutenant Yolland (Alex Arbuthnot) is charged with standardising, or rather anglicizing, Irish placenames, which threatens to erode the villagers# cultural identity. Matters are further complicated by Yolland and Manus?s shared romantic interest in local girl Maire (Lara Gill).
There were some excellent performances: both Hugh and his student Jimmy-Jack Cassie (Seb Junemann) were solid and entertaining throughout, and the love scene between Yolland and Maire was particularly engaging. At times I felt Yolland too closely resembled a lovesick Hugh Grant, although such a characterisation is perhaps valid within the context of the play. Additionally, some of the minor characters gave the impression of being overtly caricatured, trying at times to inject an unnecessary element of slap stick comedy.
The set was well constructed and designed, enhancing the sense of the British as an alien presence in the village. This should be particularly commended given the presumably small budget of the production.
Normally I would not take issue with inconsistent accents; however, the choice of play necessitated a very careful treatment, which was at times lacking. The majority of the play is performed in English; however, this is to enable the audience to follow the drama. The English characters cannot speak Gaelic, whilst most of the Irish characters cannot speak English. It is through the characters? accents that the audience distinguishes between the two languages. At times the inconsistencies in accents made the dialogue difficult to follow. This prevented the cast from fully capitalising on the comic potential of misunderstanding and miscommunication, the main basis for humour in the play.
Although set in 1830's Ireland, 'Translations' offers a stimulating presentation of the role of language in cultural identity, a theme that is becoming increasingly significant as the globalisation of business and entertainment becomes more prevalent. Despite the production?s lack of polish, I found the evening both enjoyable and thought provoking.
'Translations' runs from Wednesday 28th November until 1st December in the Union Concert Hall. Performances start at 7.30pm.