Catherine Ashmore

Following a sold-out run last year, Translations returns to the National Theatre, directed by Ian Rickson.

Set in 1833, the events of Translations unfold in a hedge school in Donegal. The informal educational establishment is under threat from the arrival of a new National School, where attendance will be compulsory and lessons will be taught in English. At the same time, a thinly-veiled military operation by the colonial superpower is underway – British soldiers arrive under the pretence that they are mapping the area for the Ordinance Survey. Their true intention rapidly becomes evident – to eradicate the traditional Gaelic names and replace them with “standardised” ones, further Anglicising the island of Ireland.

The quality of the acting is impressive. Translator Owen (Fra Fee) brings a delightful enthusiasm and playfulness to the stage, while teacher Hugh (Ciaran Hinds) impresses as a symbol of tradition and heritage during a great period of change for the country. While many of the poetic lines sound very pretty indeed, there’s just as much beauty in what isn’t or can’t be said, and this is personified sensitively in a wonderfully delicate portrayal of Sarah (Liadan Dunlea).

While there are many fine acting performances on display, the real star of the show is the play itself. Friel’s text is lyrical throughout, showcasing the beauty and complexity of language. It’s an intelligently-written script, too – both the Irish and the British characters deliver their lines in English, so the audience can appreciate the humour in observing the translator’s rather loose interpretations. There are a handful of genius moments, both comedic and dramatically ironic, where we witness the language barrier between two lovers, who have no idea that they’re completely on the same page.

Translations is a play of inaction – very little actually happens during the show – and at a two-and-a-half hour run time, it may not be the most appealing prospect to some. But there’s a lot here to enjoy – there’s a real beauty in the text and genuine warmth and humour in its delivery, while the talented cast really bring these lines to life. Ian Rickson’s production offers a rich revival of Brian Friel’s classic play – one we’re happy to recommend.

GAY TIMES gives Translations ★★★★☆

More information can be found here.