The Mundy sisters arrived into town fresh off the boat from the Northwest of Ireland for two showings of Brian Friel’s ‘Dancing at Lughnasa.’ Part of the ‘On The Rocks’ student-run (and might I add very successful) theatre and arts festival, the Mundy family had some big boots to fill and the sold out Barron theatre eagerly awaited their arrival on stage.
A small ceilidh band heralded the beginning, only to be ushered off in a humorous yet also serious manner by Michael (Sam Peach). Michael plays the role of narrator and is Chris’s son out of wedlock. The accent was always going to be something the audience wanted to hear, and unfortunately it was patchy to say the least; but Peach did seem to settle into his role more in the second act as he helped to set the scene for the disasters looming.
As soon as the Mundy sisters arrived to the table I knew I was in for a good show. The worry could always be that the girls would blend into one character hard to differentiate from each other; but this was not the case. It was clear that each had a different story to tell, a different take on life to their siblings, but still they had the look of a family. Their dialogue was superb, Ayanna Coleman showed simple, natural poise as Chris, and Charlie Martin was a tour-de-force as Maggie, making the crowd laugh, cry and empathise. Martin showed her strength as a true matriarchal leader, as did Kate (Carly Brown), but both could also accurately portray their weaknesses and struggles. The humour Maggie brought to the stage was heightened by the arrival of Father Jack, a returned brother from Ryanga who brought with him the shame of finding faith in a ‘pagan’ religion. The one downfall I felt was the characterisation of Rose, who in the play text suffers from a developmental disability, but in this version came across as more youthful and immature rather than disabled – which might have left the audience a little confused, considering that Chris is the youngest Mundy sister.
Dancing at Lughnasa is a play full to the brim with symbolism; it is unfortunate that this key part wasn’t brought more to the fore. Marconi, the radio, represents the sisters’ connection to the real world but this was not fully explored. Likewise, the demonic faces on the kites are meant to represent the omnipresent god figure that keeps the Mundy sisters in their lonely place, but this theme also was left undeveloped.
It was the sparky dialogue between the sisters which made Dancing at Lughnasa a good show. From Ballybeg to Ballykissangel to the Barron theatre, for those few hours we were in Ireland and felt the rollercoaster of life that is mundane living. Bravo.