Last Updated on
Brian Friel’s modern classic, Translations.
After a sold-out run in 2018, Ian Rickson’s acclaimed production of Translations returns to the National this Autumn.
Brian Friel’s epic modern classic explodes on the expanse of the Olivier stage, powerfully framed by Rae Smith’s evocative set and Neil Austin’s ambient lighting, which creates the backdrop of an Irish rural landscape in 1833. The mood is captured by red skies and a smoky mist rising over the sweeping Donegal hills.
Translations opens in a hedge school run by teacher Hugh played with a marvellous richness by Ciarán Hinds, and his son Manus (an excellent Seamus O’Hara). A group of locals are sitting around discussing the mystery of language and literature, speaking loquaciously in Gaelic, but in English for the benefit of the audience. The class is full of village folk – selective mute Sarah played with innocent longing by Liádan Dunlea who Manus aids with the power of the spoken word, and enthusiastic student Máire (expertly performed by Judith Roddy) who sees their language as a barrier for modern progress and longs to escape. Other classmates include elderly Jimmy Jack Cassie (Dermot Crowley), humorous farmer Doalty (Julian Moore-Cook) and spritely Bridget (Amy Molly).
After six years absence Hugh’s prodigal son, Owen, returns from Dublin along with two British army officers who are part of a military operation to control the land, anglicising the names in a form of semiotic colonialism. Their aim is to create a map of the area, replacing the Gaelic names with English and in the process eroding a historic language. Owen, played with a bright intensity by Fra Fee, acts as a translator, his love of language preceding him; however, he’s not to know what damage will ensue with the coming of his visit and the military in tow.
Relationships untangle… Manus walks with a limp, symbolically hobbled by his father who injured him as a child in an accident. He’s been held back whilst his brother has been allowed to flee the nest. Manus yearns for Máire, whilst she looks elsewhere to break free from the limits of her world, falling for the charming English Lieutenant Yolland (Jack Bardoe) who is also wanting to escape, but in his case from his father’s disappointment. Yolland has romantic notions reimagining life in a rural community with a naïve disregard for the realities of language barriers. There’s a satisfying spark and powerful chemistry between Máire and Yolland, their attempts to connect is deeply touching and sympathetically staged, albeit pure romanticism as they can’t understand each other’s language.
Rickson’s atmospheric production of Translations is both wide-ranging and intimate, pulling you into its rural world redolent of history, gently lulled by the beauty of its language and the stories that it holds. In the final scenes Yolland’s unexplained disappearance depicts a painful realisation, which is underscored with an evocative soundscape (sound design by Ian Dickinson/music director Michael-David McKernan) from a band playing guitars, double bass, viola and percussion.. so subtle and entrancing that I barely noticed them until the mist lifted in the final scenes.
Translations is a fascinating exploration of language and culture and a magnificent piece of storytelling. Friel understands the seductiveness of English Imperial culture, whilst also reminding us of the turbulent relationship between England and Ireland. We witness the devastation caused to rural Irish communities as a brutal and violent solution was sought, tensions split the community, lines of opposition were drawn met through cultural colonialism as much as through military occupation.
Be sure to catch it if you can.
Translations is showing at the Olivier, The National Theatre until 18th December 2019
Upper Ground, Lambeth, London SE1 9PX
Phone: 020 7452 3000
Looking for something in the West End? You might enjoy Noises Off at the Garrick till early January 2020
We have a great roundup of places to eat close to the Southbank and the National Theatre if you are searching for pre-theatre dining options why not take a look