Translations is the second play to open in Sheffield Theatres' Brian Friel season, and the most iconic of the works featured. Set in a 19th century rural Irish community dealing with the intrusion of British Army map-makers, the piece weaves complex threads of language, identity and colonialism into a richly human tapestry.
James Grieve's production is energetic and dynamic. In one striking scene, where Irish farm-girl Maire (Beth Cooke) and British Lieutenant Yolland (James Northcote) manage somehow to profess their love for one another across their seemingly insurmountable language barrier, the two circle each other before spiralling together; it is almost a dance.
There are many performances of note. As Owen, Cian Barry's gradual transition from aloof condescension to re-incorporation into his former community is managed subtly and convincingly. Northcote's bumbling Lieutenant is both comic and touching, and Roxanna Nic Liam brings a sweet vitality to the mute Sarah. But it is Cooke's compelling portrayal of the bright, yearning Maire that truly brings the stage alive.
There are some questions over the production's focus. Bafflingly, programme notes insist that this is "much more a play about language than politics", as though the two were separable. Additionally, by emphasising universal human themes of love and loss, as well as the play's rich comic potential, some of its sharpness is blunted. Nevertheless, it is a gripping and vibrant production of a hauntingly beautiful play.
Translations continues at the Crucible Sheffield until 8 March 2014.