• Fri. Jun 14th, 2024

Review: Translations

ByJemima Hawkins

Mar 10, 2023

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Translations is an Irish play by Brian Friel concerning the destruction of traditional Gailic language in the fictional town of Baile Beag, and the anglicisation of place names in the early 19th century. The opening scene is a quaint illustration of local Irish education by the lame focal character Manus, teaching bashful Sarah all that she needs to know in their current lifestyle; ‘My name is Sarah’.

The costumes of all the Irish characters consist of monotone, earthy colours, of browns and creams meaning the contrast of the blood red costumes of the English army officers is very visually striking upon their entrance and interruption of long-established interactions.

There is an arresting conflict between the ‘Irish’ being spoken in heavily accented English for the benefit of the audience, and the RP English of the intruders, thus making the language barrier comedic, as, to the viewer, both are speaking alike but cannot understand one another. This tension provides the backdrop for a love story between English Lieutenant George and Irish villager Máire, one which, despite their best efforts, ends with only one word being translated: ‘always,’ before the former’s disappearance at the close of the play.

There is similarly irony in a play about the death of the Irish language being written and spoken in English, without a word of traditional Irish in it, but a strong Latin presence from elderly Jimmy Jack; this dead language pervading but the language at the crux of the plot, not.

The simple set and natural chill of Bedlam Theatre draws attention to the actors’ performances and the salient story of loss, not just of language, but of a sense of belonging, that is derived from the competing narrative voices. Additionally, in true Irish countryside style, the implementation of a rain machine in the second act made the action feel very close to the audience, almost breaking the 4th wall and immersing the viewers within the rural village of Baile Beag and the pathetic fallacy of the weather as their lives, as they know them, fall apart.

The eldest son of the family, Owen, acts as mediator between the villagers, who speak only Irish, and the Lieutenants who have been tasked with colonialising the area. Englishman George falls in love with the land he has been tasked with destroying, forcing the Irish and the English to face the problems, both personal and political, of communication and language.

While the Irish accents of the ensemble occasionally strayed towards the West Country, the imperative questions raised regarding identity and change left the audience pondering Owen’s words that a ‘syntax opulent with tomorrows,’ is to be lost. An important message enacted by a remarkable cast, see Translations while you can.

Image by Andrew Morris provided via Press Release