BWW Reviews: TRANSLATIONS, Crucible, Sheffield, February 17 2014
Following their David Hare and Michael Frayn seasons, Sheffield Theatres are currently hosting a season dedicated to Brian Friel. Translations is the centrepiece, playing in the Crucible Theatre at present before it begins a national tour. Afterplay is also currently playing in the smaller Crucible Studio, whilst Wonderful Tennessee opens in the Lyceum at the end of February.
Translations tells the story of a small Irish town in a time of transition in the nineteenth century. The Hedge school that has taught its pupils Latin and Greek is due to make way for a national school that will teach English, whilst the local place names are about to be translated by the British military, working with former local boy Owen. The play is about language and its translations, but it's also about romance, family, community, colonialism, Empire and what is both gained and lost as cultures and languages change.
Director James Grieve - aided by Lucy Osborne's rural set design and James Farncombe's sensitive lighting - manages to bring out the humour, sadness and pathos in the play and maintain its subtleties. Whilst there is a sense for some characters of a lament for a world, a way of a life - and a language - that will soon disappear, much like the Latin so beloved of the older characters, the production rarely becomes preachy in this sentiment, and there's an understanding that for some characters, Beth Cooke's Máire and Cian Barry's Owen in particular, there are significant opportunities offered by the learning of English and the arrival of national schools to replace the community hedge schools. The performers likewise display a convincing mixture of the comedic, the dramatic and the sentimental, with the almost-lost-in-translation flirtation between Máire and Yolland (James Northcote) providing both a lot of laughs and a lot of sadness, and the portrayals of older characters Jimmy Jack (John Conroy) and Hugh (Niall Buggy) demonstrate intelligence, heart, rage and sorrow borne out of experience behind their more comedic moments - you can see that when these guys drink (often), it is sometimes for pleasure and sometimes for pain.
This is a great production of a thought-provoking play. Translations is at the Crucible, Sheffield until March 8, then it begins its UK tour. For tour details, visit http://ett.org.uk.