A HEDGE school as it was, a shell to fugitive scholars, is the set to ‘Translations’.
Directed by Margaret Hough, College Players give their all to this Brian Friel classic playing at Lime Tree Theatre into Saturday November 16.
‘Translations’ is a 19th century tragedy that is shockingly funny – in all its languages. The year is 1833 in Baile Beag and British dominion is charting Ireland to restamp it, fox the people and raise taxes.
There is something about the rustic, shattered schoolhouse that frames this storybook in realism. Wool skirts scrape the earth. The stairs is a hazardous passage between Baile Beag and being on the run, between Donegal and stars governed by Zeus, between ignorance and education, between safety and having your cattle shot within 24 hours, eviction next and the village women ‘ravished’ to complete the terror.
The school also works as a Rover’s Return for action. It is the centre of every jape, romance, hope and crushed life.
Rare craic? Well, it is.
There is an hilariously tender love scene between the guileless Lt Yolland (Eoghan Ahern) and Máire (Rachel Griffin), her determined chin set to better her lot. Much goes on under the light of silvery moons, one shines for the English military, another less brightly for Gaelgóiri who gather for lessons from the alcoholic máister Hugh O’Donnell (Padhraic Hastings, at his considerable best).
The true romance to ‘Translations’ is the people’s belief that some element to their lives is their own to fashion. There are bromances between the men, Hugh and Jimmy Jack (Dave Griffin, lost in character and madness) and Yolland and Roland/ Owen (Dan Mooney, top form in the mastering of his character arc.)
For myself, I felt there was more romance in how kindly the vulnerable are treated by villagers, the shivery mute Sarah (Áine Hogan) and raving Jimmy Jack who is courted by Athena. You yearn for them to be together, the foolish and the wise wrapped up in one.
Brian Friel can be too soft on his own kind. These Irish are plaster saints, altruistic and cultured, guilty only of ad astra per aspera and guzzling poitín by the quart.
Paul Fitzgerald as the practical, broken schoolteacher Meanus is one to watch, the unravelling driven by silly Brigid (Joanne O’Brien, magic) and Doalty (a convincingly fly Nigel Dugdale) and Sarah’s witness.
This is a play in which Friel exercises every cleverness to hold up a mirror to what happened to Ireland, its evisceration by the letter as much as sword.
Full marks for the flawless technical staging. ‘Translations’ is beautiful to watch……but came across a tad unevenly in its emotional metre. The first half is slow revelation as we are bedded in, the second a gallop into Apocalypse.
There is lovely hurling between Padhraic Hastings and David Griffin, a magnificent scene between these scholarly elders, significant for what is being said in words, in English, Irish, Latin, one man knowing, one not, that for us, translates into a wrenching realisation.