Loft Theatre Translations review - Anxiety and anger in tale of places and language on Leamington stage

Charles Essex reviews Translations, by Brian Friel, at the Loft Theatre, Leamington
Connor Bailey as Doalty with Rod Wilkinson as Jimmy Jack (photo: Richard Smith Photography)Connor Bailey as Doalty with Rod Wilkinson as Jimmy Jack (photo: Richard Smith Photography)
Connor Bailey as Doalty with Rod Wilkinson as Jimmy Jack (photo: Richard Smith Photography)

Suppressing language has been a modus operandi of the conquerors over the conquered for millennia.​

But this play was not an anti-colonial diatribe. Rather it examined change in communities and in individuals. In 19th-century rural Ireland there was often no formal education. Unofficial “hedge schools” provided teaching for adults and children. In the village of Baile Beag, Craig Shelton excellently portrayed the frequently drunk tutor Hugh, whose surprising knowledge of the classics and etymology was matched only by the equally inebriated Jimmy Jack (Rod Wilkinson). Their banter in Latin and Greek was a remarkable theme through the play.

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Two arrivals disturbed the status quo. Hugh's elder son Owen (Christopher Stanford) returned from Dublin, wealthy and with a bigger worldview than the hills and valleys around Baile Beag. He was acting as a temporary interpreter for the British Army who had come to survey the area and Anglicise the place names, led by the brusque and blinkered Captain Lancey (Mark Roberts) and the gentler Lieutenant Yolland (Ted McGowan). Mark and Ted were ideal contrasts in manner and appearance.

Owen welcomed what he saw as progress, sceptical of the parochialism of village life and the romantic self deception of the villagers. Like many Irish people, local girl Maire (Leonie Slater) wanted to emigrate. Yolland’s and Maire's mutual attraction and their struggles to overcome the language barrier were touchingly portrayed. His growing sympathy with the villagers was a dawning realisation that he did not want to return to the army or to England. The dialogue was in English but the script humorously conveyed when they were speaking English or Gaelic.

This was a thought-provoking play about the potential for harm to communities from external threats and events beyond their control, creating an atmosphere of anxiety and anger. All the cast were word-perfect and did director Tom O’Connor proud, aided by an excellent set from Richard Moore and live music from violin and accordion, John and Carmel Burke, respectively.

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