Translations: A Review
With troublesome Brexit deals and the tumultuous relationship between England and Northern Ireland hot in the press, it seems as though there is no better time for the premier of Edinburgh University Theatre Company’s rendition of Brian Friel’s ‘Translations’. There was no trace of opening night nerves, as the cast delivered an unforgettable show to a sold-out audience at Bedlam theatre.
Before the play has even begun, the audience is treated to an enigmatic display of Irish culture, welcomed into the auditorium to a performance of traditional Gaelic music. The talented Anita Klementiev, Kieran Hagan and Jack O’Coinneacháin play flute, fiddle, and bodhrum as everyone is seated, and a Gaelic tune is sung as the first scene begins. This, paired with a simple set that is humbly adorned with just a bale of straw, an armchair and a collection of trinkets, creates an intimate atmosphere wherein the audience have not merely been transported to 1830’s Ireland, but into the tight-knit community in which the story takes place.
No doubt, this intimacy helped the actors deliver dynamic performances, taking full advantage of the stage space to each have their moment. Set in the fictional town of Baile Beag, the play follows the townsfolk as their lives are disrupted by the arrival of the English military, who have been tasked with completing the first comprehensive ordinance survey of Ireland. The play centres around this community, predominantly in a hedge-school where students including the stuttering Sarah (Erin O’Callahan), gossiping Bridgette (Olivia Martin), loudmouth Doalty (Ruby Loftus), bachelor Jimmy Jack (Emer Williams), and the despairing Máire (Josie Embleton) are taught by the drunken schoolmaster, Hugh (Zac Askham), and his frustrated and downtrodden son, Manus (Conor Ó’Cuinn). The arrival of Captain Lancey (Ted Ackery), Lt. George Yolland (Amiran Antadze), and the naïve Owen (Chris Kane)- absent brother of Manus and son to Hugh- throws their small town into disarray. They quickly begin their mission of cultural eradication, which begins with the anglicisation of place names, and soon becomes very sinister.
As Doalty, Ruby Loftus injects humour into what would otherwise have been a very tense and troubling performance. Chris Kane exudes charisma, but still manages to deftly portray Owen’s inner turmoil at the betrayal of his cultural heritage. The chemistry between Conor Ó’Cuinn and Josie Embleton is phenomenal, and the ensuing love triangle between Manus, Máire and Yolland is punctuated by the performance of Amiran Antadze.
Whilst each actor delivers a memorable performance in their own right, as an ensemble they are magnetic in navigating issues of identity, language, and the power of connection in the face of cultural eradication. Alongside the cast, directors Catriona Maclachlan and Aisling Matthews have cleverly brought ‘Translations’ to life, offering an atmospheric masterclass. From sound and light, to music and staging, to rain and smoke, the directors build tension, offer moments of relief, but most importantly, pay homage to Ireland and its culture.
Thought provoking, emotional, and entertaining, both cast and crew were well deserving of the rapturous applause they received. It would’ve been a great shame to have missed out on this stellar show.