Translations at the Rose Theatre
After debuting in Sheffield in February, director James Grieve has brought his revival of Brian Friel’s play Translations to the Rose Theatre in Kingston. Set in Gaelic-speaking Donegal, Ireland in 1833, the play examines the effects of English occupation on a small hedge school and its patrons.
While finding seats, the normal riches of polite etiquette and bashful manoeuvring dissolved as the entire audience’s attentions were concentrated on the superbly lit and splendidly designed set that adorned the stage. The backdrop – a rustic barn set against an austere straw covered stone floor and sprinkles of wooden aged furniture – and the design, by Lucy Osbourne, is impeccable.
Translations delivers a powerful early punch, quickly introducing us to its characters and their intelligent dialogue. Superbly acted, the heavy dialogue never once troubled the accomplished actors, who carry the story on their broad shoulders. Littered throughout their conversations is a heavy spread of light-hearted humour, most regularly delivered by Hugh (Niall Buggy), the headmaster of the school and perpetual drunk, who offers moments of relief and genuine laughter. A slight criticism may be that the comedy is led by the entire cast instead of a few of the more successful characters, but overall a welcome ingredient.
As the play draws on, the scenes become a deeper examination of the minutiae of life, frequently playing out between just two characters. The intelligence of dialogue and subtlety of subtext never wanes, but unfortunately the pacing does suffer during the production’s slow methodical exposé of rural Irish life. At times the audience shuffling sounded their need for a quicker narrative leap.
Although not bringing a distinct change in pace, the second act does introduce a refreshing alteration in tone and moves the story along its arc, leading us ever closer to the inevitable didactic finale. Steeped in history, poignant and powerful, Translations is a strong-willed beast that doesn’t fail in its intentions. This three-way co-production certainly succeeds in delivering a fresh vibrant version of an old classic.
Photos: Mark Douet
Translations is at the Rose Theatre until 3rd May 2014. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch Brian Friel speak about the production here: