Laced with Irish charm, James Grieve’s production was a special treat for its Newcastle audience.
Originally penned by Brian Friel in 1980, the English Touring Theatre transported us back to the Donegal summer of 1833, where two English officers had been sent to work on Gaelic place names translations.
Played by the impressive James Northcote, Yolland is younger and more sensitive than his partner and attempts to befriend the locals.
In a scene stealing moment, the bumbling English soldier, resembling a young Hugh Laurie in his prime, tried to woo Maire (Beth Cooke). However, with neither speaking the other’s language, things were comically lost in translation, giving the audience a chance to have a good laugh.
Among a relatively tense and ominous atmosphere of Irish and English, colonised and coloniser, the lovers’ gradual breakdown of language barriers offered the play’s most heart-warming moment.
The stark set and choice of costumes was particularly effective, with the red officer uniforms creating a striking visual contrast from the dusty coloured clothes of the villagers.
After the interval there was a well-choreographed dance scene, with Yolland grappling with both a sense of unease and an anxiety to impress the Irish.
The drama then became thicker as the plot turned noticeably darker. All of the cast were particularly adept at conveying the varying, often hard-hitting emotions at the play’s core.
As it continued, comedy was harder to come by, although the drunken duo of Hugh (Niall Buggy) and Jimmy Jack (John Conroy) provided moments of light relief with their talk of Greek goddess marriage proposals.
A thought-provoking reminder of the historical past, with as much relevance today as when it was first performed 30 years ago, Grieve’s version of Friel’s play translated mighty well to the Northern Stage.