Dancing at Lughnasa is a play I feel a particular attachment towards due to its warmth and portrayal of love in the face of adversity. I was therefore keen to see it performed by Theatre Alba, a company who I have seen perform several plays beautifully in the past.
The location, in Duddingston Kirk Garden overlooking the Loch, was perfect for capturing the sense of late summer in the fictional village of Ballybeg where the five Mundy sisters are entranced temporarily by the magic of the festival of Lughnasa.
Michael, the narrator is able to move seamlessly between childhood and adulthood, imbuing the story with the sense of wonder experienced by a seven-year-old whilst also having the understanding of a grown man. I thought that this was a difficult part to play and the fact the actor made Michael’s journey through memory so effortless was a real credit to him, making the story seem real by rooting it in time and place.
The Mundy sisters are also sensitively portrayed without reverting to clichés. Rose, the ‘slow’ sister can be a problematic character and one which a lesser actress could ‘ham up’ however Annabel Logan was brilliant in the role, making Rose about so much more than just her disability and taking the time to develop her as a fully rounded character with a story of her own.
Belle Jones was also strong as the romantic Chrissy, who loved to dance and would not be crushed by the prosaic nature of life in Ballybeg.
Yet I was most impressed by the endearing vulnerability of Father Jack, played by Robin Thomson. There is something tragic about the way he tries to tell his sisters about Uganda, with his shaking hands and his inability to remember words…’spectacle, not that’s not it, ritual…?’ – He also brings another culture with him, the alien culture of Africa, at once anathema to the strictly catholic Kate, and attractive to all the sisters who long for the romance of travel and the unknown.
Dancing at Lughnasa treads a fine line between real sentiment and sentimentalism, and I was glad that Theatre Alba captured its Chekhovian quality and sense of nostalgia, without the play becoming schmaltzy.
My only real criticism is that it went on slightly longer than it said it would perhaps due to the interval change over taking a long time, however there was something lovely about sitting in the audience and watching the story unfold as the night became darker.
One last thing, bring a blanket to wrap yourself up in.
by Hope Whitmore
Dancing at Lughnasa is on at Duddingston Kirk Garden at 7.30 until August 26th, Tickets available at the fringe box office