Review: Translations, Crucible Theatre

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This play is part of the Brian Friel season, celebrating the Irish playwright.

Translations tells a story set in Donegal in the mid 1800s, when people still spoke Gaelic.

British soldiers arrive to survey the area and standardise the spelling of place names, an action that is part of the long colonisation of the oldest part of the British Empire.

We first come across the locals studying in a hedge school in a farmyard, where they learn Latin and ancient Greek, languages that feel closer to their own than English. Niall Buggy plays a drunken schoolmaster, a man caught between the old world and the new. His sons Manus (Ciaran O’Brien) and Owen (Cian Barry) represent resentment with this new world and cooperation with it.

Owen is working as a translator but eventually realises that his role is betraying his community.

The doomed love affair between Maire (Beth Cooke) and the soldier George (James Northcote) splits the community apart and forces all to choose sides.

Beth and George’s story is touchingly told and the scene where the couple try to overcome language barriers to communicate their growing love is brilliantly acted.

James Grieve’s direction shows a deftness of touch that allows the actors space to explore the dilemmas their characters face.

John Conroy as eccentric academic Jimmy Jack deserves a special mention for combining pathos and humour with sad dignity.

The whole cast beautifully created a world where people struggled to cope with change that swept their old certainties away brutally.