WORTH A LOOK?: *****
WHERE: National Theatre (Olivier)
WHEN: 26/5, press night 30/5, runs to 11/8/18
RUN TIME: 2 hours 35 minutes (including interval)
Brian Friel’s 1980 masterpiece Translations is set in Ireland in 1833 and is about the power of language as the English seek to map the country so they can better tax its people.
- Read on for reasons including why this is the best play we’ve seen at the National in a long time
Its conceit is that it’s almost entirely in 1 language (English) although its story is about the local Gaelic-speaking community’s inability to understand the English soldiers who are visiting to rename the areas they refer to as ‘sections’ of the country.
Most memorable is the love scene that begins the second half between an English soldier and a native who cannot communicate by words they both understand, although the audience can hear perfectly what they fail to make clear to each other.
Star Colin Morgan (pictured above, from TV’s Humans) plays Owen who translates for the English soldier although this work alienates his father and brother who hear his translations and realise he’s not quite telling the full truth about the implications of the soldiers’ work.
Elsewhere his brother Manus (Seamus O’Hara memorable in an affecting role) is a schoolteacher in love with a local woman and teaching a pupil to speak.
There is actually much fun to be had here, especially at the expense of the English soldiers whose enthusiasm for brutality is as painful as their unwillingness to try to understand those who live in the country that they are seeking to redefine.
The Irish are educated and particularly entertaining is Jimmy Jack Cassie played by Dermot Crawley who is comfortable quoting both Latin and Greek.
Ciaran Hinds plays father to both Owen and Manus and is better here than we’ve seen him recently in both Girl From The North Country and Hamlet at the Barbican.
Morgan is impish and likeable as Owen who has found success by leaving his home but is bringing tragedy to it as he accompanies the English soldiers with their work.
Director Ian Rickson is at his best here utilising a set that has similarities with a National misfire from last summer Common and a production that is much more assured than the unfortunate Macbeth which closes shortly at the Olivier Theatre here.
We laughed long and hard at the first three-quarters of this play which made its conclusion all the more devastating. It’s the best production of a play we’ve seen at this venue for a long time.