Translations (Abbey Theatre, Dublin) – A Theatre Review
Yes, its a rich language, Lieutenant, full of the mythologies of fantasy and hope and self-deception – a syntax opulent with tomorrows. It is our response to mud cabins and a diet of potatoes; our only method of replying to… inevitabilities.
For me, Hugh’s description of the Irish language has always burned right through to the sort of people that we are. Not that this should be surprising given how this is a play that delves into how language, memory, and psyche are all immersed in each other. Consider, if you will, the following:
“Property prices will rise and rise”, “there will be a soft landing”, “the cheapest bank rescue in the world”, “at least we are not Iceland”, “we do not need a bailout”, “we will get the interest rate cut”, “at least we are not Greece”, etc.
Meanwhile, our public services crumble to dust, our children leave, and scot-free bondholders get paid back in full. Yes, on the off-chance that this is what Brian Friel meant by renewing the images of the past or fossilise, then we have taken up his suggestion only too well over the 30 years that have passed since Translations‘ first appeared on stage at Derry’s Guildhall. Unfortunately, we Irish have long since been seduced by the promise of what lies around the bend. We live in perennial, awful, inescapable, infantile hope. We bathe in the luxuriant sound of it.
By way of a further example, then, there was the recent visit of the Queen of the Commonwealth Realms to Ireland – an event that conveniently sits well with those that occurred in the Ballybeg of 1833. Step back from the immediacy of it all and you are left with a diminutive old lady being rushed through empty steel-fenced streets while most complained about traffic delays, a few practised wobbly curtsies in front of the mirror, and several more muttered dark things into their beer. The images of the past were honoured, Yolland would have envied how a cúpla focal were spoken, and it all seemed fairly unremarkable. As all of this was happening, though, men in suits spoke privately together about how much in hock Ireland was to its nearest neighbours. The royal visit may have shown that “the new names” have indeed been learned. At the same time, we live in a country that is once more an impoverished “section” of some greater and uncaring dominion.
As a performance, though, this is the Abbey Theatre in snugly jumper, comfy slippers, and hot cocoa mode. To the right, you have Aaron Monaghan playing his trademark overly serious young man (Manus). To the left, you have Rory Nolan playing his trademark jolly and irreverent one (Doalty). Donal O’Kelly (Jimmy) will never let you down, then, in terms of looking startled and finding ways to be clumsy, while Denis Conway (Hugh) is as much at home on these boards as he is on his sofa. Throw in the pacing, the lighting, the set design, the light-hearted humour, the style of acting… and there is something highly familiar and enjoyable about this presentation.
In a sense, this should not surprise given the tremendous influence that plays like Translations and Faith Healer have had on Irish theatre. Equally, Mr. Friel has never been a playwright to avoid providing stage instructions, which does limit director Connall Morrison and his technical team to some extent. That said, as comfortably agreeable as this production is, it misses a degree of spark, some sense of raw intensity, a willingness perhaps to fail in a brave-hearted response to such a provocative and culturally insightful text. These are frustrating, frightening, confusing times that we live in. When it comes to receiving a dose of cosy self-regard flecked with edginess, I need only watch Oireachtas Report.