The Barn Theatre, Southwick Community Centre.
September 11, 12, 13 & 14, 2002.
Dancing at Lughnasa
by Brian Friel
Katie Brownings – Kate
Zoë Edden – Maggie
Jane Richards – Rose
Diane Robinson – Agnes
Heather Richards – Chris Michael’s Mother
Derek Fraser – Michael
Phil Balding – Gerry Michael’s Father
Ray Hopper – Jack
Stage Manager – John Garland
Stage Manager – David Goodger
Assistant Stage Manager – Sheila Wright
Lighting Design – Mike Medway
Lighting Technician – Chris Grey
Sound – Simon Snelling
Set Design – Dave Comber
Set Building – Dave Comber
Set Building – Dave Collis
Set Building – Brian Box
Set Building – Mike Davy
Set Building – Marc Lewis
Set Painting – Sheila Neesham
Set Painting – Frances Thorne
Set Painting – Margaret Ockenden
Set Painting – Joan Bearman
Properties – Sue Whittaker
Properties – Margaret Davy
Wardrobe Team – Cherry Briggs
Wardrobe Team – Margaret Pierce
Press & Publicity – Rosemary Bouchy
Press & Publicity – Rosemary Brown
Press & Publicity – Judith Berrill
Box Office – Margaret Murrell
Front of House Co-ordinator – Betty Dawes
Publicity #1: Dancing at Lughnasa
Publication: Shoreham Herald
Publication Data: August 29 issue – Leisure Scene Section – page 5
Text Header: “Shall we dance?”
IT IS harvest time in rural Ireland and the five Munday sisters are at a turning point in their lives.
The Wick Theatre Company’s new production is Dancing at Lughnasa, is bittersweet and nostalgic play full of gentle humour
Dancing at Lughnasa takes place in Ireland, circa 1936, and at the time of the old festival of La Lughnasa.
The Munday household consists of the five spinster sisters, living together just outside the village of Ballybeg, and Michael, the seven-year-old son of the youngest sister, Chris. Their elder brother Jack, a missionary priest in Africa, has just returned after 25 years because of ill health. Or is there another reason?
Michael’s father Gerry visits Chris from time to time full of promises that he’ll never keep. Kate, the eldest sister, is the only wage-earner, while two other sisters, Agnes and Rose, make a pittance knitting gloves at home. Only Maggie’s sense of humour keeps them smiling. Rose is simple, and all the sisters, especially Agnes, are protective of her.
The household’s faltering Marconi wireless provides music to accompany some dancing, their only recreation amid the struggles of the daily grind.
Directed by Jan King, who had an outstanding success at the Barn Theatre last year with A Month of Sundays, this play features a cast of highly experienced actors.
Kate is played by Katie Brownings, Agnes by Diane Robinson, Rose by Jane Richards, Maggie by Zoe Edden and Chris by Heather Richards. Ray Hopper appears as Jack the priest, Phil Balding is Gerry and Derek Fraser plays Michael the narrator, as well as speaking the lines of Michael the child.
Dancing at Lughnasa is on at the Barn Theatre, Southwick Community Centre, Southwick, September 11-14, 7.45pm every evening. Tickets are £6 from the box office on 01273 597094.
Publicity #2: Dancing at Lughnasa
Publication: West Sussex Gazette
Publication Data: Unknown
Text Header: “Dancing shoes out for latest Barn play”
Bittersweet and nostalgic, with gentle humour … Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa is Wick Theatre Company’s next production.
The story is of the five Mundy sisters at a turning point in their lives, and takes place in the rural Ireland of 1936. It is harvest time – and the time of the old festival of La Lughnasa. The household consists of the five spinster sisters, living together just outside the village of Ballybeg, and Michael, the seven-year-old son of the youngest sister, Chris. They can barely make ends meet. Their elder brother Jack, a missionary-priest, has just returned after 25 years in Africa, sent home because of ill health. Or is there another, darker reason?
Michael’s father Gerry, a charming ne’re-do-well, visits Chris from time to time full of promises he’ll never keep. The eldest sister, Kate, is the only wage-earner, while two others, Agnes and Rose, make a pittance knitting gloves at home. Maggie’s sense of humour tries to keep them all optimistic. Rose is simple, and all the sisters, especially Agnes, are protective of her.
Dancing is part of the sisters’ pattern of living. To the strains of their prized but unreliable Marconi wireless, or sometimes to no music at all, one sister or more will abandon the household chores to prance the light fantastic. Dancing is their only joyous recreation in the struggle to survive. Gerry and Chris dance together, too, echoing their earlier romantic affair. The hopes and dreams of them all, and the ways these are frustrated by reality, are woven into the story. A grown-up Michael is the narrator, recounting and re-living what happened during that long-ago summer.
For this production, the director is Jan King, whose production of A Month of Sundays was an outstanding success last year. Dancing at Lughnasa brings different challenges, Jan says: “It’s a nostalgic play. It’s not about anything particular. It’s about people’s interactions and the effect of memory.” There is one moment towards the end which is ‘pretty dreadful’, and yet which some productions don’t bring out .. Jan won’t be making that omission .. It’s just a question of doing so in a way which achieves the effect. Jan remembers a production in which the moment of horror found Jan fighting a fit of the giggles. Jan’s solution to the problem came to her by chance on holiday in Spain.
Go along to the production to find out more …
Another challenge Jan says, has been in remaining faithful to what Friel wants in terms of the set. “I have staged it pretty much as Friel wanted, but it’s not very satisfactory. It’s too cramped. He requires the set to be pretty much half garden and half kitchen. It’s terribly cramped to have a kitchen on half the stage with five women in there. But I have tried to be faithful to those requirements. It’s what Friel wants so you have to manage.” But perhaps it’s appropriate: “These are women living in a very small cottage so they would be cramped!”
Kate is played by Katie Brownings. The other four sisters are Agnes [Diane Robinson], Rose [Jane Richards], Maggie [Zoe Edden] and Chris [Heather Richards]. Ray Hopper appears as Jack the priest, Phil Balding is Gerry. Derek Fraser plays Michael the narrator, as well as speaking the lines of Michael the child.
Performances are at 7.45pm from Wednesday, September 11 to Saturday, September 14, at the Barn Theatre, Southwick Street, Southwick. Tickets: 01273 597094
Review #1: Dancing at Lughnasa
Publication: Shoreham Herald
Publication Data: September 19 2002 issue
Reviewer: Stephen Critchett
Text Header: “A delightful sister act from Wick ”
WICK’S heartfelt portrayal of pre-war sisterhood from the Emerald Isle, Dancing at Lughnasa, proved a real sparkler, thanks to some class acting and convincing accents. The tale of the lives and loves of five spinster sisters by Brian Friel was full of energy and tenderness in equal measure, and the impressive set evoked the feel of the era. Told as seen through the eyes of Christine’s [Heather Richards] seven-year-old son Michael [voice of Derek Fraser], the story took the audience back to the summer of 1936 around the Feast of Lughnasa at the family home near Ballybeg, County Donegal.
Derek Fraser also played the rôle of grown-up Michael looking back and narrating during breaks in the action; a dual rôle which worked well and held the play together. We observed the sisters’ lives at home and in the community until, eventually, we were told what became of them through a wistful Michael at the end. Heather Richards played the motherly part well, in addition to that of the love-struck 30‑something when Michael’s caddish father Gerry [energetically and enthusiastically played by Phil Balding] appears out of the blue and promptly disappears into it again. The pair struck up a good rapport, and Gerry soon had the audience tittering with his far-fetched tales of one-horned cows/unicorns, etc.
Kate [Katie Brownings] boasted the best Irish accent to this correspondent’s untrained ears, and fitted well into the rôle of disapproving and protective sister, having poured scorn on her excited siblings’ idea of going to the Lughnasa harvest dance [‘dancing’s for young people’]. Kate had a sensitive side, though, as was shown in her scenes with the young Michael and her elder brother Father Jack, an initially confused old man who had returned from missionary life in Africa.
Jack [Ray Hopper] was utterly believable in the rôle a bumbling man-about-the-house, and the sisters’ plain sympathy for him was reflected by the audience. Rose was exuberantly played by Jane Richards, and evoked sympathy for her doomed liaison with a married man and quest for love. Excitable Agnes, who we subsequently learn was to meet a sorry end, was well-played by Diane Robinson, as was Maggie [Zoe Edden], who provided a few giggles through her passion for ‘wonderful Woodbines’.
Credit must also go to Darelle Tomlinson [choreography] for the dance sequence and David Creedon [voice-coaching]. Directed by Jan King, Dancing at Lughnasa was an accomplished production from Wick which kept the audience riveted from start to finish.
Review #2: Dancing at Lughnasa
Publication: Brighton Argus
Publication Data: Unknown
Reviewer: Barrie Jerram
To open their new season the Wick Theatre Company chose Brian Friel’s study of five impoverished spinster sisters living in a remote part of Donegal during the summer of 1936. With their parents dead they struggle to eke out a living and each faces a future without hope of marrying. As a result of this there exists a close bond between them and the desire to survive.
The hardship and deprivation of their daily routine is lightened by the arrival of a radio into the house that prompts the return of dancing into their lives. Although the play has been likened to Chekhov’s Three Sisters it differs insomuch as Friel’s heroines are more deserving of our sympathy. They have little choice as to their futures.
This memory play is seen through the eyes of Michael, the illegitimate son of the youngest sister. The grown up Michael acts as both the narrator and also the voice of the boy during the action of the play that depicts the events that lead up to the disintegration of the family. Jan King’s production was of the usual high standard that the audience has come to expect from this company. An example of the attention paid to detail was the use of a voice coach to achieve credible Irish accents. The cast skilfully managed to bring out all the differing aspects of the play – its tender warmth and gentle humour along with its pathos and poignancy.
Derek Fraser as Michael excelled in the dual rôles of Michael. His soft dreamy voice matched the poetry in his reflective monologues whilst attaining the perkiness of childhood for the young Michael. Katie Brownings had the difficult job of making Kate, the bossiest and more practical of the sisters, deserving of the audience’s sympathy. This she managed to achieve, particularly in the scene where the others tease her for her affection for a local shopkeeper.
Zoë Edden beautifully captured the impishness of Maggie, the joker of the family whilst Heather Richards gave us a moving portrayal of Chris, the sister who had been seduced by Gerry, the father of Michael. I was also impressed by Diane Robinson’s performance of Agnes. Through the use of subtle looks and gestures she put across the anguish arising from the secret feelings she had for Gerry.
Of the remaining members of the family the performances of Jane Richards and Ray Hopper are worthy of special mention as each had to portray characters with mental difficulties – Rose, the youngest sister born retarded and physically malformed and Uncle Jack, senility. Each made their character credible human beings attracting sympathy and not ridicule, as could have been the case in lesser hands.
Each of the above performers managed to bring their characters to life naturally and without the appearance of theatrical artifice. Sadly, this was not the case with Phil Balding, as Gerry. Whether this was due in part to the rôle – that of a feckless and irresponsible charmer – or to his playing I am not certain. I felt that there were times when stillness from him was required and not the swaying and jigging around that irritated rather than charmed.
Review #3: Dancing at Lughnasa
Publication: Wick Newsletter
Publication Data: November 2002
Reviewer: Simon Birks
I had the pleasure of seeing the Wick’s production of Dancing at Lughnasa on the Thursday night. Initially, I had gone to watch with some trepidation. I had been given the script to read beforehand, and although deftly worded, there was something about the story that I hadn’t been able to grasp. Fortunately, my fears were unfounded. I sat throughout the performance understanding exactly what its playwright, Brian Friel, was depicting. This was helped by an excellent cast, who were able to breathe life into the characters.
The story is set in the summer of 1936. Five spinster sisters share a house near Ballybeg, in rural Donegal. Living with them is the youngest sister’s illegitimate son, Michael. The grown-up Michael is also the narrator of the story, both parts played purposefully by Derek Fraser. Of that summer, Michael remembers two events: the arrival of Marconi, a radio that is the source of most of the dancing, and the return home from Africa of the sisters’ elder brother, Father Jack. He was played by Ray Hopper, who brought an impressive amount of depth and compassion to the part. When we first see Jack, he is confused and suffering from malaria.
The eldest sister Kate, a schoolteacher [Katie Brownings] becomes distraught at Father Jack’s conversion to the Ugandan spiritualist religion, and takes it on herself to try and ‘cure’ him of it. Katie ably projected the frustration, love, and Catholicism that runs through her words. Maggie [Zoë Edden] is the least religious of all the sisters. Smoking her Wild Woodbines and unable to resist the temptation of the music, she was played freely and with great affection. An affection that transmitted itself to the audience, who were never too far away from a smile for one of Maggie’s riddles or sharp sayings.
Agnes [Diane Robinson] was well captured as the quiet, hardworking middle sister, but with a hint of something more underneath, a character who I felt supported the story rather than being a star. This was backed up by Diane’s performance. Rose [Jane Richards] the fourth sister, was my favourite character. Jane managed to play Rose so convincingly, that not once did I find myself doubting her simple outlook, and her continued stubbornness to be independent.
Lastly, Christina [Heather Richards] the youngest sister, and the mother of Michael, was played with the blind devotion that the part requires. Christina shows her emotions too easily, especially when Michael’s father, Gerry Evans, shows up. Gerry, played by Phil Balding, is a dreamer, a cavalier, working his silver words on the willingly gullible Christina. While the scene in which Gerry attempts to fix the aerial of the radio had me laughing, I wondered whether Phil’s lack of eye contact with Heather was played on purpose or not; and it made the relationship look less easy than I thought it should.
The set was good, portraying both the sisters’ kitchen, and the garden. I thought perhaps the space that was left to act in might be restricting, but I was proved wrong [again!]. I did find myself, however, concentrating on the invisible wall between the kitchen and the garden, and would have found it easier if there had been a low wall separating the two areas. The Irish brogues were excellent, and I only lost the odd word or two, which is normal in any production, accents or not! The choreography was very natural, and all the players looked at home whenever they kicked up their heels [though the swaying of the cast during Michael’s final speech went over my head a bit!].
On the whole, a very engaging evening indeed. From the initial tableau to the final words it was unfolded with great delicacy and care by the director, Jan King. It was not an easy play to put on, but I believe it worked well. And though the eventual fate of the Mundy sisters is not the happiest of endings, after we’d shared those two days in August of 1936 with them, we all came away with a smile.