Love and laughter at Lughnasa

AN EVOCATIVE masterpiece by Irish playwright Brian Friel looks set to entice full houses at The Watergate Theatre later this month.

AN EVOCATIVE masterpiece by Irish playwright Brian Friel looks set to entice full houses at The Watergate Theatre later this month.

Dancing at Lughnasa, which premiered in the Abbey Theatre over twenty years ago is produced by The Barn Owl Players and directed by Trish Brennan.

The play is set in Donegal in the fictional town of Ballybeg in 1936 and tells the story of five sisters, the Mundys, who live with one of the girl’s seven-year-old son and their older brother, who is a missionary priest. It spans over three weeks and is told from the perspective of the narrator, the now grown up seven-year-old child.

“It is at the time of De Valera’s Ireland which was predominantly Catholic but still had ancient pagan customs like the festival of Lughnasa. There is the encroachment of tribal customs from Africa with the arrival home of the brother who has ‘gone native’. Repression, poverty and the need to maintain respectability are all issues for the women in the play. A few of the female characters have fleeting or unrequited encounters when it comes to love but it is love that is lost to them and ultimately they are quite tragic figures.

“There is also black humour on the part of one of the sisters Maggie who diffuses much of the tensions in the play with her comic antics. It is a memory play and has a strong nostalgia quality. The memory is personal to each and is no different to the way every sibling in a family has their own unique memory of their upbringing,” said director Trish Brennan.

This is Trish’s directorial debut and she has embraced the role with gusto. “I have directed one-act plays and monologues before this but this is by far the biggest production. The mentorship I have got from Philip Hardy from Barnstorm has been crucial. The role of director appeals to me because it is a multi-faceted role which involves taking text on the page and breathing life into it for presentation on the stage for an audience to enjoy. The director mimes the script fully and then begins to visualise how the play will look and sound. This includes casting, character development and relationships, blocking, costumes, lighting and set design.

“With Dancing at Lughnasa the atmosphere created with 1930’s music is important to how it sounds and feels - the soundscape is crucial. The director draws together what everyone else is creating and values the input of all the team, not least of all the actors and weaves it together to create what the audience sees on stage. The director holds the bigger picture I suppose. The bigger picture also involves keeping within budget and not overspending is a challenge too. A play like this costs a considerable amount of money to put on, so the group has to be careful about the decisions in takes about costs,” added Trish.

Artistic director of Barnstorm Theatre Company, Philip Hardy who was assistant director in the world premiere of Dancing at Lughnasa has taken on a mentoring role in the production. “It would not be possible without the help and support of Philip Hardy and all the staff at Barnstorm Theatre company. Because it is my first time to do full length play, I have found it to be an exciting and fulfilling, yet draining and daunting experience so far,” she said. “Dance features very strongly in the play as does the music of the era, so the cast have had to throw themselves into different forms of dancing as a way of giving expression to some of the themes in the play. The cast and crew have been brilliant and are working very hard to make this production a success and it is the sense of teamwork I enjoy the most,” she added.

“This is a huge challenge for the Barn Owl Players to do a full length production and it is an interesting process having worked with them before to mentor them now in their own production. Sometimes it is not easy to let go but the actors, directors, stage management and production crew are all more than capable of making a great piece of theatre with a great play,” he added.

The cast are: Michael: Jim Carroll, Kate: Dee Gibney, Maggie: Mary Cody, Agnes: Nicola Keating, Rose: Janis Woddgate; Chris: Sinead Goggin, Gerry: John Whitely and Jack: Michael Somers.

Dancing at Lughnasa runs at The Watergate Theatre from March 29- March 31 at 8pm. Tickets are priced at €12 and €10. For further information or bookings call 056 7761674 or see