Venue: The Drama Barn
Dancing at Lughnasa, the touching story of five unmarried sisters told through the eyes of their younger brother Michael, was incredibly well done. The play deals with an interesting and turbulent period in history. Moments of humour and real emotion mingled in this fascinating insight into a small household in rural Northern Ireland, with larger issues like the industrial revolution and World War Two as well as the oppressive nature of small town Irish Catholicism looming in the background.
The Drama Barn worked remarkably as a performance space, reinforcing the intimacy with which the audience are invited into the home of the characters. The division of the stage into an indoor and an outdoor space was a clever decision and was excellently carried out by the set designers Hannah Froggett and Alice Tones. Some of the best dramatic moments in the play were enabled by the set with characters watching others through the windows. Tom Barry delivered Michael’s monologues smoothly, conveying both a certain sadness and fond nostalgia that exemplified the character’s position in the play. Ashleigh Thompson, playing Chrissie, stood out as she effectively captured the image of a single mother with an illegitimate child seemingly still in love with the partially absent father Gerry, also portrayed well and charmingly comically by Christian Loveless. Father Jack (Matt Ingram), the slightly deranged father returning from Uganda after 20 years was another standout performance.
However, the format of the play had the potential to be problematic. Oscillating between being played out in real time and explained in hindsight by an older version of Michael, the action taking place in the present could quite easily have become uninteresting. However the play sidesteps this issue by leaving some things unsaid, told only by the way characters speak and look at each other. It is these small character details, excellently portrayed by the whole cast, that really make the play shine.
Despite an undeniably slightly cheesy ending, a certain level of self-indulgence can be overlooked for such a seamlessly charming play. A profoundly real sense of human life is captured in this production and everyone involved should be proud.