The Mundy sisters
Dancing at Lughnasa
National Theatre May 2023
Photo by Johan Persson
063 – Dancing at Lughnasa, by Brian Friel
Brian Friels’ magical memory play, Dancing at Lughnasa, is set at the time of the Irish festival of Lughnasa, when traditional pagan celebrations marked thanksgiving for the harvest. The festival in question takes place in the summer of 1936 in the fictional village of Ballybeg, where the five unmarried Mundy sisters live. The events of that summer are recounted to us as the long-ago memories of the seven-year old son of one of the sisters; memories that are possibly unreliable, but are also funny and poetic and profoundly poignant.
Friel has been called the ‘Irish Chekhov’, partly because many of his plays, like Dancing at Lughnasa, take place in the same rural setting, where he charts the nuances of family dynamics against the backdrop of a defined time and culture. Friel wrote Dancing at Lughnasa at the peak of his career in 1990, in the period when he worked with the Field Day theatre company and produced his other masterpieces Translations and Faith Healer. Loyal listeners will recognise that we covered the latter in episode 43 of the podcast: listen here.
As we record this episode, Dancing at Lughnasa is playing on the Olivier stage at the National Theatre in a gorgeous new production directed by Josie Rourke. I am thrilled to have the privilege to talk with Josie about this spellbinding play.
PS. Coincidentally, Oliver Soden, our guest in our last episode on Noël Coward’s Private Lives volunteered Dancing at Lughnasa as one of his favourite plays, and recommended it for the podcast. We’re delighted to be able to do so Oliver!
Josie Rourke is an acclaimed theatre and film director, and the former Artistic Director of the Donmar Warehouse and the Bush Theatre in London.
During her time at the Bush she programmed early work from some of our best playwrights, including James Graham, Lucy Kirkwood, Nick Payne, Penelope Skinner and Jack Thorne.
During her tenure as the first female Artistic Director at the Donmar between 2012 and 2019, there were a great many notable productions, including Phyllida Lloyd’s all-female Shakespeare Trilogy, Mark Gatiss in The Recruiting Officer, Tom Hiddleston in Corialanus, and Conor McPherson’s The Weir, which also transferred to the West End. Likewise her production of Les Liaison Dangereuse in 2015 transferred to both the West End and Broadway. Other credits at the Donmar include: Saint Joan, Measure for Measure, Sweet Charity, The Vote, The Machine, and Privacy.
Other directing includes Much Ado About Nothing, with Davis Tennant and Catherine Tate; the musical City of Angels; and Men Should Weep at the National Theatre.
Her most recent theatre credits include As You Like It at the new Soho Place theatre in December last year, and Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons starring Aidan Turner and Jenna Coleman in the West End earlier this year.
She has also directed the film Mary Queen of Scots, starring Sercha Ronan and Margot Robbie, which earned BAFTA and Oscar award nominations. Her last screen project was Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads with Jodie Comer.
Josie recommended two plays: The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare,
and 2nd May 1997 by JackThorne.
The Footnotes to our episode on Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa include more on the meaning of dancing in the play, as well as some observations on the characters of Kate and Father Jack.
Additional benefits available to Patrons include Footnotes on the plays covered in the podcast, as well as exclusive access to The Play Review.
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Published 4th December
Lynn Nottage’s play Clyde’s is set in a truck-stop diner on the outskirts of Reading, Pennsylvania. This is no ordinary diner though, because the short-order cooks that make the sandwiches that the diner is famous for are all ex-cons. But the eponymous proprietor, Clyde, has not offered these characters a second chance out of the softness of her heart.
Lynn Nottage has won the Pulitzer Prize for drama twice, and as we record this episode the European preview of Clyde’s is on stage at the Donmar Warehouse in London. I am delighted to be joined by the show’s director Lynette Linton, who also directed Nottage’s last play Sweat at the same theatre in 2018.
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As we record this episode a new production directed by and starring Sir Kenneth Branagh arrives in London’s West End.
I am very pleased to be joined in this episode by Paul Prescott, who is an academic, writer and theatre practitioner specialising in Shakespearean drama.
Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge tells the tragic story of Eddie Carbone, a longshoreman who works on the docks under Brooklyn Bridge. Eddie lives with his wife Beatrice and 17-year old niece, Catherine, whom they have cared for since she was a child. But Catherine is no longer a child, and her natural desire to pursue her own life will tragically rupture the lives of this family and the close-knit immigrant community of Red Hook.
As we record this episode a new production of A View from the Bridge is touring the UK, and I’m delighted to talk with its director, Holly Race Roughan, about this powerful play.