Monday 11 June 2018

Translations, the National Theatre, the South Bank, Central London

Images from the National Theatre web site
A poignant and passionate play, Translations immerses you in rural Donegal in the 1830s. A small Gaelic-speaking subsistence community is gradually unpicked and uprooted by the arrival of a squad of red-coated English sappers charged with mapping the county and replacing the Irish place names with Anglicised alternatives. The action focuses on a hedge school, which teaches Greek and Latin, but not English, to potato farmers living off a rugged landscape lashed by rain. This warm and engaging production brings to life the subsequent war of words and languages, while the threat of a real conflict looms large in the background. A returning son tries to bridge the broad gap between his earthy, yet erudite, compatriots and an earnest English captain, while a young lieutenant is enthralled by the lusty lyricism of the locals.

With its free-flowing dialogue featuring quotes from Homer and Virgil, Translations celebrates both linguistic diversity and versatility, while acutely highlighting how language can divide people and spark antagonism. At turns, Brian Friel's script is funny, moving and profound. While some of the monologues can seem laboured, the playwright's enthusiasm for language and its subtleties is infectious.  The storyline also captures both the precariousness and vivaciousness of rural life in Ireland in the nineteenth century. Although the community lives in fear of famine, the characters have the time to wax lyrical about love, while indulging in drunken and playful banter.  Although none of the actors manages to dominate the stage, collectively, the cast performs with aplomb, adeptly managing the intimacy of the script and the wide expanse of the Olivia stage at the National. 8/10