Translations, National Theatre, Southbank, London SE1

translations-5997-680x297-20180223

Translations is set in Donegal in the 1830s. Ireland is under British control, but most of the population do not speak English. It is at a time before the famine has set in, but people know of the blight and are aware of the damage that a potato crop failure can do to a  community. Ordinance Survey has sent teams of men to map the countryside and to standardise place names. Education had not been allowed for Catholics, so the practice of illegal hedge schools operated throughout Ireland. One of these schools is the precise setting of this play.

This is a play about language, the effect language can have on culture, how we can communicate with it and also about how we can communicate without it. This makes it quite an intimate piece and the Oliver Theatre, The National Theatre’s largest space and stage, does not appear to be a natural home for it. However, Rae Smith, the set designer has done an amazing job and used the space to great advantage. The hedge school is a small, low walled area right at the front of the stage and the rest of the area is peat bog stretching out into the distance, covered by the gently rolling mist that is prevailing climate of the region. Thus, we have the intimacy of the small school and the expanse of the area that is in the process of being mapped.

Seamus-OHaraManusDermot-CrowleyJimmy-Jack-Michelle-FoxSarah-in-Translations-image-Catherine-Ashmore-e1527175613872

Brian Friel was, he died in 2015, a wonderful playwright and Translations is a virtuoso display of his skills. The play itself may be about the power of words but the main love scene is between two people without a common language. It consists mostly of lists of place names, and is still a very moving piece of theatre. The director, Ian Rickson, has taken great care of the action, every entry and exit feels considered and the lines are all delivered deliberately, making you feel that each word has been carefully chosen.

The acting is of the highest calibre, Ciaran Hinds is as good as you would expect – and those expectations are high indeed. Colin Morgan is also very good, showing that he is aware that he is taking both sides, while denying it to all. Dermot Crowley, as Jimmy Jack Cassie, is a revelation, in a part as a humorous fantasist, who has to be credible to be funny. I also loved Michelle Fox, who managed to get us to feel a wide range of emotions even though her part has very few lines.

The thing that makes this production stand out for me, though, is the extraordinary way that Ian Rickson handles the final scene. The mechanism he employs, comes out of the blue and is gone in a flash, it adds a current reference to the play and suits it well. All in all, this is a beautiful piece of writing, beautifully presented and performed and I will consider myself to be very lucky if I see anything as good this year.

 

The Ferryman, Gielgud Theatre, Shaftsbury Avenue, London W1

theferryman_03
The Ferryman is a kitchen sink drama with an epic storyline. Apart from the prologue, it is totally set in the large kitchen of a family farmhouse outside Derry. The action is a day and a half in the lives of the extended family that resides there. But, the themes are huge, its about family and war, about love and loyalty, about freedom fighting and terrorism, and it tells these stories through short interwoven family interactions that come and go throughout the play that gradually meld together to make a complex tapestry.
Jez Butterworth has been spoken of as one of the best writers around today, and with  The Ferryman he delivers. The language and the narrative are superlative, it is the writing of someone both confident and ambitious. He is brave to wind traditional songs and ancient stories through the dialogue and he is talented pull it off so well.
The direction is awesome, there are 17 characters in this play, without counting the live goose, rabbit or the baby. Just moving them all around the stage must have been a major task but, Sam Mendes makes the whole setting feel real,  natural and, even simple.
The cast is also fabulous, lots of lovely performances from so many different actors. Paddy Considine and Laura Donnelly are great as Quinn and Caitlin, but right through the cast there were great turns. I loved Rob Malone as the troubled Oisin. Brid Brennan had a scene stealing part as Aunt Maggie Faraway and she played it perfectly. Dearbhla Molloy and Des McAleer are wonderful as Aunt Patricia and Uncle Pat.
As you can tell, I loved this show. I have to finish because I am about to run out of superlatives. This is a play that will become a classic piece of literature that will be on school curricula.
 
 

This Charming Man, Marian Keyes, 2008

s-l300

It seems to me, from reviews that I have read, that Marian Keyes is not regarded as a serious author. I suspect that this comes from her novels being easy to read. “This Charming Man” is indeed easy to read, but that is because it is well written and not because it does not approach difficult subjects.

The main subjects of this book are abusive relationships, alcoholism and corruption in politics, with brief forays into living with a cancer diagnosis and isolation of cross dressers in rural communities. Marian Keyes has a deftness of touch and a sense of humour that manages to make this book engaging while still keeping the reader aware of the difficulties of the characters lives.

This is no less literature than Dickens or Austen, she has a great deal in common with Jane Austen in that the book is a good insight into society and the social norms of the time in which it is written. This story is told from the points of view of four different women and this is a structure also favoured by Austen. They also have wit in common and both poke gentle fun at their heroines as a way of pointing out the foibles of the culture in which they live. This novel is set in Dublin, London and County Clare.

Having said that, this particular novel is a little darker than some of her other books, although it is remarkable, maybe even a bit of a stretch, that she managed to tie up the loose ends quite as well as she did.

This Charming Man won the Popular Fiction Prize at the Irish Book Awards. I think it should have been considered for other more seriously regarded literary awards also, because there is no doubt that Marian Keyes’ books are going to be regarded as representative of late 20th, early 21st century literature in hundreds of years time.

 

The Young Offenders, (dir. Peter Foott) 2016

young-offenders-the-cig
This is an Irish road movie, set in Cork. It is written and directed by Peter Foott and, if this film is representative of his work, he has a great talent for both dialogue and character development. Conor and Jock are two feckless 15 year olds, Conor works in a fishmongers, because his Mam is the only one who would hire him and Jock seems to support himself by nicking bikes. The film is the story of them taking off to the coast, to find some bags of cocaine that have supposedly been washed ashore from a shipwreck.
Imagine “Bill and Ted” doing “Smokey and the Bandit” in County Cork on stolen bicycles…. well it’s weirder and funnier than that.
One of the many great lines form this film states “There are two things you need for an adventure, a treasure map and someone dumb enough to go with you” Neither of these boys have a clue about anything, but by the end of the film, you are really invested in them and wish them success.
This film has a hard exterior but a soft center. Jock is covered in bruises from his hard drinking Dad, but it is hardly mentioned.  Conor and his Mam are verbally abusive to each other but have an almost tender scene in the second half of the film. The acting is naturalistic and there are great performances from Alex Murphy and Chris Wally as Conor and Jock.  Hilary Rose is excellent too as the harsh Mam and P.J. Gallagher as “the drug dealer”
I liked the cinematography, Cork looks lovely in the sun and there are some great songs on the soundtrack, including “Where’s me Jumper” by the Sultans of Ping.  The incidental parts are clever too, Cork and its environs seem populated with eccentric characters and quirky misfits. What makes this film stand out though, is the amazing script, it is littered with funny lines and mad ideas.
Peter Foott has made an excellent film here and I am already looking forward to his next one.
the20young20offenders
 

Sing Street (dir. John Carney) 2016

sing-street
This film is written and directed by John Carney. He has a huge talent for writing likeable and recognisable characters. All of his films have some fantastic original songs in them  and this one mixes together a great 1980s soundtrack with some excellent original material.
The story is lovely, a boy forming a post-punk rock band to impress a girl who is out of his league, and to impress his stoner older brother, who he idolises. The older brother is played by Jack Reynor, who is outstanding and all but steals the show.
My one difficulty with the film was suspending my disbelief, the band became too good at playing their instruments too quickly and the happy ending was almost sad, because, as a walk off into the sunset, it was so doomed to end in disaster. This mattered because I liked everyone involved so much that I at least wanted them to have some realistic chance of success.
Having said that, this film is very enjoyable and it is rare that a writer can make you like almost everyone in a film, even the school bully.

Brooklyn (dir. John Crowley 2015)

mv5bmtu3mjk1otmwnf5bml5banbnxkftztgwmta3njeynje-_v1_
This is a beautifully realised cinema adaptation of a great book. The combination of Colm Toibin and Nick Hornby is wonderful. I enjoyed the changes between the book and the film, each suiting its medium perfectly.
The story is relatively simple but the characters are well rounded. I love the way the attitudes of 50s Ireland and 50s Brooklyn are captured and their differences highlighted. There are some great performances, Domhnall Gleeson was remarkable and there are nice cameos by Julie Walters and Jim Broadbent. The sets and costumes are lovely. This is costume drama and nostalgia at its best.