July 2011        


Another bullseye for the New Theatre

Lovers, by Brian Friel, directed by David Ferguson, at the New Theatre, Dublin

Whatever about a heatwave, there’s certainly a Frielfest sweeping through the country, with Molly Sweeney at the Gate Theatre in Dublin, an Abbey production of Translations, and Earagail Arts Festival’s Rediscovering Friel programme, with An Grianán Theatre producing Volunteers and The Gentle Island.
     Though he has recently turned eighty, Brian Friel’s plays have a universal appeal that makes them relevant decades later, with dialogue that transports us into the world of the characters on stage and, on a deeper level, into the realm of our own hearts.
     Another of his earlier plays, Lovers, is being presented at the New Theatre by an exciting new theatre company, Room to Move/Road to Ithaca, and opened to an enthusiastic audience on Monday 27 June. It runs for a fortnight, so if you’re in Dublin, don’t miss it! Socialist Voice can promise you it’s a “cracker,” where you’re cracking up with laughter one minute and being shot through the heart the next with the realisation of what it is to be human.
     The play features two couples, unrelated to each other, one young, one middle-aged. It’s set in the 1960s, when life in Ireland was very different: when seventeen-year-olds were considered old enough to take responsibility for themselves and when expectations of life were simpler. On the other hand it wasn’t unusual for adults of forty years of age to defer to their parents, leaving important decisions about their lives to them.
     Things have changed a lot since then, but the way people relate to each other has not. Friel captures very well the quickly changing moods of young people: carefree and excited about all of life’s possibilities one moment, filled with terror at the challenges ahead in the next. David Ferguson does justice to Friel’s script, with April Bracken perfect as Mag, her face all aglow as she excitedly maps out their future life together, then her voice betraying her anxieties as she reaches out for reassurance from Joe.
     Martin Burns as Joe is equally suited to his role. Cutting himself off from Mag and then suddenly contrite, he clowns around for her benefit, doing impersonations of the townspeople, bringing her out of her sulks and bringing the members of their close-knit community to life before us.
     Friel employs a theatrical device whereby two narrators give out the flat facts of the two young people’s lives, in stark contrast to their un-selfconscious banter and teasing, reminding us that children are often blithely unaware of the effects of their family’s troubles on their own lives.
     The second part of the play features a couple who begin their relationship with much of the same carefree delight in each other and optimism for the future, sure that they won’t make the same mistakes as the older generation. Things sour, however, and we are told how, in the form of a confession from Andy as he looks back and sees mistakes they both made that have brought them to the impasse they are now at.
     Sharon Coade as Hanna, his “intended,” portrays a woman no longer young but who embraces the fun this man brings into her life, in stark contrast to the bitterness she feels at having to be at the beck and call of her invalid mother. Neil Fleming plays Andy as a man who can still laugh at the antics of his mother-in-law, although he is an intelligent man who can see through her behaviour while admitting to regrets of his own.
     Eileen Fennell as Mrs Wilson approaches her role with intelligence, when it could have been so easy to play her as a pantomime witch. With great gentleness and a steely glint in her eye, she plays the bedridden woman in an understated yet powerful performance.
     With a wonderful cast and intelligent directing, Brian Friel’s Lovers is a winner. Another bullseye for the New Theatre!

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