Dancing at Lughnasa

Date 19th May 2017
Society Woodchurch Players
Venue Woodchurch Memorial Hall
Type of Production Play
Director Mark Perrian
Choreographer Mark and Hayley Chandler


Author: Anne Lawson

Brian Friel sets his play in a fictional rural household in Ballybeg, County Donegal during the summer of 1936.  This is a memory play told by Michael who looks back at his childhood with both fondness and sadness recalling the summer when five unmarried Mundy sisters are living a simple existence. Dignified, religious Kate Mundy is the real breadwinner, with Rose and Agnes home-knitters, the others sharing the mundane chores. Dreamer Christina is bringing up her 7 year old son with an occasional appearance from charmer gramophone salesman Gerry Evans, the boy’s father who loves to dance, who enlists to go to war in Spain. Life is fragile, brother Father Jack, Catholic missionary, has returned from Uganda after 25 years is sick with malaria, loss of memory, his language and clearly his religion.

Their distractions centre around a wireless, affectionately named ‘Marconi’, and the girls' love of music, both English and American, with frustration when reception just peters out! They are also influenced by rituals and during the period of Lughnasa, the young people collect bilberries from the hills, with strong disapproval of the church. A final wild dance is performed prior to the family breakup and before their lives simply change forever. By the end of the summer Kate loses her job, Jack dies, the two girls are no longer required to knit, leave home with further tragedy to follow. Undoubtedly a first-class play, funny at times, wild, evocative, tragic, and deeply emotional for players and audience alike.

A neat A5 shiny, colourful programme, easy to read, but would have liked to have seen a biog of the Director Mark who also played Michael superbly with a soft articulate Irish lilt.

Les Fenton’s skill of design and construction produced an excellent Irish kitchen. Using black drapes back and sides set a large dresser, with crucifix displayed and housed ‘Marconi’ the wireless, large wooden table and chairs and created a realistic black range with pots and kettle even a flue and red glow from the turf within excellent.  Large suitable props were in place – wooden ironing board for Christina’s workload from the washing basket, a flat iron, a working area for dough kneading towards the back with flour jars, tilly lamp, pails etc. A wool basket for the outworkers, washstand, bowl and jug and although a busy working kitchen, left enough space for the girls to cavort around to the music.  Central steps led down to a turfed area extending the playing area and to the side a good platform also turfed using just a piece of fence panelling and placing of a garden bench for outside scenes, with two brown paper kites to fly and the finale picnic.

Lighting/Sound Team, Tim, Rocket and Elliott swapped jobs this time but as usual were ‘spot on’ with their daylight, effects, and sound cues. So encouraging to see their enthusiasm. Ellie McGuckin SM quietly and efficiently made sure everything was in its rightful place. Costumes were perfect. Kate neat in grey frock, with hair gripped looking the dignified spinster school mam. Maggie a real grafter with her sleeves pushed up, crossover apron, rolled down socks and unlaced boots. The other sisters in simple frocks and again crossover aprons and boots.  Christina with her short bob was more dress conscious than the rest and wore a flattering floral. Jack looked pale and unshaven whilst suffering with malaria, took on a stoop and glazed expression superbly and then gave us an appearance in uniform and the tricorn with white feathers.  Most effective. Gerry was a man around town, dapper, sporting a boater and carrying a cane whilst Michael wore a grandad collared shirt, trousers with braces throughout. Ann Tiplady did a grand job producing an authentic look for the era and the location.

To compare the eight characters and performers would be impossible. An amazing cast who totally understood the power of the play and gave their all, in portraying so. Mark Perrian, not only directing but playing Michael, throughout related the summer with such softness, sometimes as the child and sometimes as the man with wonderful transition. Heather Leslie as Kate remaining steadfast in her beliefs, Beth Fenton as Maggie with her grit but wicked humour. Alison Withey-Harrison as Agnes and younger sister Rose Hannah Pinney worked very closely together, with ever hopeful Christina dreamily played by Charlotte Maughan-Jones. The excellent movement throughout with dance tutored by Mark and Hayley Chandler and well done Ben Vincer as Gerry and Christina on their ballroom dancing skills, and finally with Bryan Deverell as Father Jack portraying his sickness so convincingly - our emotions were stretched to the limits.