Lachlan Robertson reviews Dancing at Lughnasa, which went up during On the Rocks
Beth Robertson’s production of Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa was a stark, yet beautiful production that became the highlight of my On the Rocks experience. With its live music, strong cast, and a precise understanding of realism, the show was a joy to behold.
The play follows the lives of five sisters, the Mundys, their confused elderly brother, the sometime lover of one of the sisters, and their seven year old son, Michael. It is through Michael’s own recollections that we witnessed the action of the play unfold, and through him we were given knowledge of the characters’ fates before they came to be. The Mundy sisters, all unmarried and living under the same roof, live a life bare of luxury. Kate, the eldest of the sisters, is the only one bringing in a constant wage, and the others each contribute to the family upkeep in a variety of ways. With the arrival of Father Jack, their brother, after a twenty-five year stint serving as a missionary in Uganda, and the unannounced visit of Michael’s father, Gerry Evans, the play begins. In all it is a story of poverty, responsibility, and unfulfilled dreams.
Carly Brown was without a doubt the star of this show. Her portrayal of Kate Mundy fully illustrated the character’s conflict between her duties as a good Catholic and family member, and her own personal desires. I cannot help but want to meet Carly and assure myself that she is indeed a nice person, and not at all the character she so convincingly brought to the stage. However, the strength of Carly’s performance was only able to be fully seen through the support of a powerful cast. Indeed, it was the bickering, teasing, and conniving between the Mundy sisters that each of the actors were free to exhibit their talents. The new president of Mermaids, David Patterson, also deserves commendation for his role as Father Jack, the slightly befuddled, yet affable elder brother of the Mundy sisters. Patterson filled his role with a gentle sense of experience, and demonstrated a refined comedic sensibility.
I am unsure whether the treatment of Michael, the love-child of Chris Mundy and Gerry Evans, was a directorial decision, or an aspect of the original script. Instead of attempting to find a young child to play the seven year old boy, Sam Peach played the role by standing to the side of the stage and delivering his lines as the other cast members acted as if a small child were interacting with them. This was at times highly effective, particularly in the scenes shared between Sam and Charlie Martin, playing Maggi Mundy. At other times the mime seemed to jar with the otherwise stark realism of the production.
A special mention must be made of the music played throughout the production by a Ceilidh Band constituting of Kerr Barrack, James Cave, and Joanna Ramasawmy. The presence of live music contrasted the austere nature of the set and costumes used in the production, mirroring the disparity between the starkness of the Mundy sisters’ lives and their repressed hopes and dreams. Initially, I was saddened at only glimpsing two of the band members at the beginning of the show, and would have enjoyed seeing the musicians ply their trade upon the stage. However, I now feel that the absence of the band from the set only furthered the ethereal quality of their music. That the source of this music was kept from view seemed to affirm the Mundys’ own distance from their aspirations.
Finally, congratulations must be given to both Beth Robertson and Rose Albano for bringing this show to the stage here in Saint Andrews. There has been a recent trend for productions filled with meta theatre, absurdism, and overt, if not at times gaudy, symbolism, and Dancing at Lughnasa catered to anyone longing to witness the telling of a stirring narrative.
Photo credits go to Dancing at Lughnasa, Lightbox, and On the Rocks