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21 May 2015

Wild and Wonderful "Dancing at Lughnasa"

Brian Friel's "Dancing at Lughnasa"
Directed by John Keane
Knocknacarra Amateur Theatre Society
20-23 May 2015, 8pm, An Taibhdhearc Theatre, Galway
Ticets €15/€12

Photo Johanna Ní Mhaille
"Dancing at Lughnasa": Michael Mundy looks back with bittersweet nostalgia on the lives of his mother and her four sisters in a small town Donegal in 1936, a year that saw the return of their missionary brother, Father Jack from Africa, as well as a rare visit from Michael's estranged father. The play is a beautifully wrought portrait of life in rural Ireland as the five Mundy sisters deal with the conflict between happiness and propriety, joy and duty, all set against the backdrop of the Lughnasa harvest festival.
(From An Taibhdhearc website)
I went to see the opening of this play last night. Me, myself and 8 other theatre buffs.

What stuck out for me were the set design and lighting (which in the words of another audience member were "authentic and atmospheric, transporting us immediately back to 1936"). The ensemble acting, as well as the choreography (Rionach Ní Néill), were powerful, and although I hate clichéd commentary, the performances of Geraldine Holmes as Kate Mundy, Paul Hughes as Father Jack, and Ailbhe Sleven as Rose Mundy were indeed stellar.

Sharon de Bhaldraithe deserves a special mention as this was her stage debut. She was believable all the way, and her eye contact was impressive. Michelle Lyons' very strong Maggie Mundy added a very-much-needed light-heartedness to the story, often getting belly laughs from some of the aforementioned theatre buffs.

Iva Grillo Gannon as Christina Mundy gave what I thought was a very brave performance - also a first public performance on stage for her - not an easy task for a foreign national all the way from Albania to fit into the Donegalese of it all. I'll return to that below.

To complete the cast, Darragh Lucey gave us a very likeble Gerry Evans (tough job to make a baddie likeable!), and Ciaran Dorrian doubled as narrator and the young Michael Mundy - not an easy task, carried out smoothly for the most part.

The ensemble work was superb, and the tableaux therein created were striking. I often wished I had a camara, although I wouldn't have been allowed to use it anyway. The positions of the actors on stage in this regard was always well-thought out, never accidental. The choreography was superb - (yes, I did steal that word from the play, didn't I?) - the dancing, at times wild and at times gently romantic, made you wish you could get up and join them.

Especially powerful were the scenes with Father Jack, due not only to the wonderful performance of Paul Hughes, but to the group dynamic. The sisters felt every word he was saying, and you could see the family's history and the heartache of their thoughts in their faces. Precious moments where I noticed myself holding my breath and where you could hear a pin drop.

For an amateur group of actors, it was a very good effort at getting their tongues around a Donegal accent. Rose in particular would fit in rightly in the hills of Donegal! Some of the other actors slipped in and out of it, but surprisingly to this very critical Donegal ear, this didn't bother me in the least - quite simply because the whole production was believable from the word go.

Sometimes the voices were too low - we were sitting at the front and had to strain our ears at times to hear. The bird sound-effects were overpowering to these ears, perhaps due in part to the aforementioned. Quite a few times I could see behind the wing curtains, ironically called the "masking legs", ironic as they did not always mask the legs behind them. And I would go the extra mile myself and put some oil in the cod-liver oil bottle which had just come from the village shop. The pace was slow at times as another audience member pointed out, adding quickly that on the whole it was an excellent performance for an opening night by an amateur group, and with faith of a pick-up in tempo during the play's run.

Apart from those tiny nit-picked nano-no-nos, it was thumbs up all around when all nine of us came out of the theatre. And for hours of discourse later. In the words of one of the bunch it was "magical". Yes, that sums it up!

Not an easy task to direct a group of amateur actors I'm sure, but bravo agus maith thú John Keane. Job iontach ar fad déanta agat!

You have three more chances of seeing this excellent production - calling everyone, especially those in and around Knocknacarra, to give your heart a holiday - head to Donegal in the 1930s. You'll be glad you did! To book your tickets contact An Taibhdhearc at www.antaibhdhearc.com/ or call 091-563-600

Thanks I'm sure to the sponsers:

St. Anthony's & Claddagh Credit Union
Tom Sheridan's, Knocknacarra
Joyce's Supermarket, Knocknacarra
Dunnes Stores, Knocknacarra
Joyces Community Rooms
Fahy Travel, Bridge Street
Learn2Drive School of Motoring
Lyons Auctioneers, Woodquay
Crowes Bar, Bohermore
Mullins Londis, Shrule
Decorate Your Own, Woodquay

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