Translations, by Brian Friel, English Touring Theatre, New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, April 12
- Credit: Archant
1833. The English army embark on a mission to translate Gaelic place names into the King’s English, and to map the lands and landmarks of rural Ireland. Máire (Beth Cooke) is the eldest of a large farming family who finds herself falling in love with thoughts of travel, America, and a better life. She distances herself from her small community and from Manus, (Ciarán O’Brian), her school teacher beau who longs to teach for a wage that would make him a man of means...and marriage. Realising her dreams, however, could prove difficult when she falls in love with an English soldier, that she doesn’t know how to speak to. Old traditions and new horizons struggle to blend when two worlds do not communicate in the same tongue.
Translations by Brian Friel does not disappoint as the cast transports the audience to a time of great change in Irish education and politics, through intellectual and delightfully humorous interpretations of spoken and physical language.
When rural Donegal is forced to embrace the coming of a ‘national’ school, the drunken intellectual Master of the community hedge school Hugh (played by Niall Buggy with exceptional depth and grace) sees inevitable change approaching. Never more apparent is this change than in the likes of young Máire, who thinks English is the future, and wants desperately to be taught it. When Master’s son Owen (Cian Barry) returns home a translator to the visiting English army, it is clear even to the constantly inebriated teacher that the butchering of his country’s native language is on the horizon.
References to Irish history, Greek mythology, and Latin proverbs which seem clumsy and insignificant in isolation, become a pool of information when viewed as a whole, setting the scene for what is to unravel later.
Yolland (James Northcote) is the quintessentially English soldier who dreamily falls in love with the land he has been sent to change. However he redeems himself as his awkwardness in communicating with the Gaelic speaking community, becomes an elegant portrayal of his struggle to hide affections for Máire.
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The love struck couple delicately convey, with conviction, that differences in language do not have to be barriers for love, but can perhaps facilitate the cause. The audience are transported so deeply into their attempt to converse that it is easily forgotten that the two, who cannot understand a word the other is saying, are in fact both acting in English.
Whether you have studied Classics, belong to linguistic fields, or have at one time in your life struggled to ask for directions in another country, this very witty and exceptionally scripted production will not fail to disappoint in provoking thought and feeling. You may even find yourself lost for words.
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