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Review: Dancing at Lughnasa, People’s Theatre, Newcastle

Mark Summers catches Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa which is being performed this week at the People's Theatre in Newcastle

A scene from Dancing at Lughnasa at the People's Theatre, Newcastle
A scene from Dancing at Lughnasa at the People's Theatre, Newcastle

Strains of Irish music play as the lights reveal a squalid kitchen and a patchy garden.

Though the set is drab, it’s ideal for a play that explores the desperation of a family in 1930s Ireland.

Brian Friel’s story of the five Mundy sisters is told through Michael, their young nephew, whose adult recollections include their problems and the wider challenges facing Ireland at the time.

While hoping for male attention, the women lead humdrum lives dominated by cooking and knitting, only dreaming of trips to the Lughnasa moon festival dance.

Things get harder with the arrival of Father Jack, Michael’s uncle and a former missionary in Uganda.

Although his devotion has made him something of a hero in the village of Ballybeg, Father Jack gradually reveals that his faith has been diluted.

Troubled by his loss of memory and his confusing beliefs, Jack’s attitude creates problems for Kate, the oldest and most devout of the sisters.

His failure to celebrate Mass and the attitudes of her sisters only make Kate worry more, as do the actions of younger sister Christina and her lover, Gerry, who Kate can only call “Mr Evans”.

Their relationship led to the birth of Michael, who recalls seeing his father occasionally when he came to visit.

A finale that ties together issues raised also leaves questions unanswered.

The recollections of the adult Michael - an unseen boy on the stage - make for points of dramatic tension, as does the device of actors freezing on stage during his monologues.

Not all the Irish accents convince but the drama as the complicated relationships begin to unravel makes up for this.

You might not leave heartbroken but you will be moved by the story of the family from Ballybeg.

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