Identity and culture are at the forefront of many news stories and political debates. Brian Friel's Translations tells of the human tragedy and loss of dignity endured by a simple rural community in County Donegal in 1833.
The English begin their first Ordnance survey of Ireland. This brings drastic consequences for the Irish speaking inhabitants of Baile Beag and its hedge school. Suddenly English replaces Irish and everything that the people once knew is erased and replaced.
At the centre of the narrative is a collection of memorable and fascinating characters. Hugh (Frank Grimes) is an old fashioned school master who loves Latin and the Irish language. Manus (Brendan Foster) is his loyal son who senses that the English have a hidden agenda. Owen (Liam O'Brady) - the older brother - is working with the English on their plans to rename the areas within Donegal. The rest of the community welcomes the English until they realise that everything they believe in is slowly being etched away.
This beautiful, touching and sometimes thought provoking play is well directed by Roger Haines. He has respect for the material and elicits fine performances from the entire cast.
Grimes is masterful and commanding, Foster conveys a vulnerable edge to Manus without painting him as a victim. O'Brady is marvellous and provides the audience with a likeable but naive Owen whose actions destroy his roots and the lives of all those around him.
Aislinn Mangan and Tim Mitchell play young lovers from the opposite side of the tracks. One is a Baile Beag student and mother, the other a British Soldier. Watching these two communicate without bi-lingual skills is incredibly moving as the only language they understand is that of love.
Friel's marvellous writing alone is able to move the audience to tears. But the whole package is evident here including Judith Croft's marvellous set which captures the naivety and trusting nature of the community with superb precision.
This production is funny, moving, and universal in its appeal. The topic of loss of identity is ever relevant in a world where 'globalisation' is so much more than a buzz-word for sociology students.
- Glenn Meads