Written Brian Friel, Directed by Sean Holmes
National Theatre, Everyman Theatre
11th - 15th October 2005

Reviewed by Colin Serjent

Translations - penned by acclaimed Irish writer Brian Friel - is an engrossing and challenging drama that both uses and delves into the richness of language and history to achieve its ends. Set in Donegal in 1833, the play relates the story of a small farming community on the verge of far-reaching changes in their lives.

The action takes place in a hedge-school, based in a barn, which was normal practice in Ireland at that time. They were informal schools where the rural poor were taught. The primitive stage set accurately reflected the sparse nature of such schools.

The play revolves around the attempt by the British, in the form of the Army Royal Engineers, to replace Hedge Schools with a national school system, and the replacement of the Gaelic language with the English tongue.

The army is also there to devise a new map of Ireland, leading to local communities being divided or subsumed into other communities. On both counts it is a metaphor by Friel to vividly indicate the loss of Irish identity and culture built up in the country over thousands of years.

Hugh (Kenny Ireland) the drunken teacher at the Hedge School - who constantly quotes Latin and poetry - is outstanding among a top notch cast of the National Theatre.

You feel a strong empathy with the plight of the Irish in this play on many counts - it is set seven years before the devastating potato famine - particularly so when the Engineers Captain Lancey (Simon Coates) is on stage, accurately portraying the widespread arrogance and ignorance of Irish culture by the British army at that time.

First performed in 1980, Translations has since become a classic of Irish theatre. It retains its potency and the importance of a native language to its people. The ever-increasing spread of English speech throughout the world is a potential threat to minority languages.

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