Timothy Ramsden previews a story of the Anglicisation of 19th century Ireland
TRANSLATIONS. By Brian Friel. Library Theatre, Manchester.
What is in a name? A lot, in Brian Friel's story of the re-mapping of Ireland in 1833 when Gaelic place-names were changed into English by the British Army. Friel shows the impact through a hedge-school.
Its teachers, the formidable Hugh and his son Manus, plus their scholars, represent the local population at its best.
Friel is even-handed in sympathy and criticism, says director Roger Haines.
Hugh is a drunk, incapable of completing an argument, but he loves teaching and his adult pupils return the affection. Manus, a "very sensitive role" shares his enthusiasm, with a thrill when he encourages Sarah to speak a full sentence.
Hugh's other son, Owen, is passionate about his job helping the ordnance survey, though "he's basically going to betray his family and the community where he grew up. But he believes it's the only way progress can be made".
He only loses this faith when he has to translate the new English names back to his countrymen as locations of reprisals for the murder. Till then he's been downbeat about tradition, contrasting the misty-eyed Lieutenant Yolland, a romantic who's in the army, and the survey, by default. (Haines sees his superior officer, Lancey, as the only character outside Friel's balance of sympathies.) Ironically, in this play about language, it's the inarticulate Sarah who, for whatever motive, triggers disaster by reporting Yolland's romance with Maire (pronounced "Moya" by cast consensus), Manus's beloved. She has treated Manus badly in act one, and may even see Yolland as her ticket from the place. No doubt people will shun her for her alliance with a Brit, but it's Yolland who's "committed what's seen as a fatal crime - he's infiltrated the tribe".
Violence is linked to the Donnelly twins. Unseen, no one dares speak openly about the twins' political activities. Their threat contrasts Hugh and old Jimmy Jack's impractical attempt at a united Catholic Ireland, reminiscing about 1798's Republican United Irishmen revolt. These two are also deep into the classics, with their old myths paralleling the Gaelic story-telling.
Haines believes the play's core is the loss of a culture. The old have the past, the young may move on. Those between "don't know where they live any more or, metaphorically, what it's called".
Until October 11
Tickets: 0161 236 7110
Study day September 24, Playdays
October 1, 8