|Dancing at Lughnasa|
|Written by||Brian Friel|
|Date premiered||24 April 1990|
|Place premiered||Abbey Theatre|
|Subject||A month in the lives of five impoverished women.|
|Setting||August 1936, County Donegal, Ulster, Ireland|
Dancing at Lughnasa is a 1990 play by dramatist Brian Friel set in County Donegal in Ulster in the north of Ireland in August 1936 in the fictional town of Ballybeg. It is a memory play told from the point of view of the adult Michael Evans, the narrator. He recounts the summer in his aunts' cottage when he was seven years old.
This play is loosely based on the lives of Friel's mother and aunts who lived in Glenties, a small town in the south-west of County Donegal in the west of Ulster. Set in the summer of 1936, the play depicts the late summer days when love briefly seems possible for five of the Mundy sisters (Maggie, Chris, Agnes, Rose, and Kate) and the family welcomes home the frail elder brother, Jack, who has returned from a life as a missionary in Africa. However, as the summer ends, the family foresees the sadness and economic privations under which they will suffer as all hopes fade.
The play takes place in early August, around the festival of Lughnasadh, the Celtic harvest festival. The play describes a bitter harvest for the Mundy sisters, a time of reaping what has been sown.
The five Mundy sisters (Kate, Maggie, Agnes, Rosie, and Christina), all unmarried, live in a cottage outside of Ballybeg. The oldest, Kate, is a school teacher, the only one with a well-paid job. Agnes and Rose knit gloves to be sold in town, thereby earning a little extra money for the household. They also help Maggie to keep house. Maggie and Christina (Michael's mother) have no income at all. Michael is seven years old and plays in and around the cottage.
All the drama takes place in the sisters' cottage or in the yard just outside, with events from town and beyond being reported either as they happen or as reminiscence.
Recently returned home after 25 years is their brother Jack, a priest who has lived as a missionary in a leper colony in a remote village called Ryanga in Uganda. He is suffering from malaria and has trouble remembering many things, including the sisters' names and his English vocabulary. It becomes clear that he has "gone native" and abandoned much of his Catholicism during his time there. This may be the real reason he has been sent home.
Gerry, Michael's father, is Welsh. He is a charming yet unreliable man, always clowning. He is a travelling salesman who sells gramophones. He visits rarely and always unannounced. A radio nicknamed "Marconi", which works only intermittently, brings 1930s dance and traditional Irish folk music into the home at rather random moments and then, equally randomly, ceases to play. This leads the women into sudden outbursts of wild dancing.
The poverty and financial insecurity of the sisters is a constant theme. So are their unfulfilled lives: none of the sisters has married, although it is clear that they have had suitors whom they fondly remember.
There is a tension between the strict and proper behaviour demanded by the Catholic Church, voiced most stridently by the upright Kate, and the unbridled emotional paganism of the local people in the "back hills" of Donegal and in the tribal people of Uganda.
There is a possibility that Gerry is serious this time about his marriage proposal to Christina. On this visit, he says he is going to join the International brigade to fight in the Spanish Civil War, not from any ideological commitment but because he wants adventure. There is a similar tension here between the "godless" forces he wants to join and the forces of Franco against which he will be fighting, which are supported by the Catholic Church.
The opening of a knitwear factory in the village has killed off the hand-knitted glove cottage industry that has been the livelihood of Agnes and Rose. The village priest has told Kate that there are insufficient pupils at the school for her to continue in her post in the coming school year in September. She suspects that the real reason is her brother Jack, whose heretical views have become known to the Church and have tainted her by association.
There is a sense that the close home life the women/girls have known since childhood is about to be torn apart. The narrator, the adult Michael, tells us this is indeed what happens.
The play was originally presented at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1990. It transferred to London's National Theatre in 1991, winning the Olivier Award for Best Play, and subsequently to Broadway's Plymouth Theatre where it won the Tony Award for Best Play as well as a Drama Desk Award nomination for Outstanding Play. The original cast included Frances Tomelty and later Rosaleen Linehan as Kate, Anita Reeves as Maggie, Bríd Ní Neachtain as Rose, Bríd Brennan as Agnes, Catherine Byrne as Chris, Gerard McSorley as Michael, Paul Herzberg and later Stephen Dillane as Gerry Evans and Barry McGovern and later Alec McCowen as Fr. Jack. The original Broadway cast included Rosaleen Linehan as Kate, Dearbhla Molloy as Maggie, Bríd Ní Neachtain as Rose, Bríd Brennan as Agnes (winning a Tony Award for her performance), Catherine Byrne as Chris, Gerard McSorley as Michael, Robert Gwilym as Gerry and Donal Donnelly as Fr. Jack.
The play was revived ten years after its original production, again at the Abbey Theatre with the same production team headed by Patrick Mason. The cast included the original Maggie, Anita Reeves in the role of Kate, with Jane Brennan as Agnes, Lynn Cahill as Rose, Des Cave as Fr. Jack, Steve Elliott as Gerry Evans, Anna Healy as Maggie, David Parnell as Michael and Ali White as Chris.
In April 2004, Joe Dowling directed a new production of the play at the Gate Theatre. The cast included Aisling O'Neill as Chris, Derbhle Crotty as Maggie, Catherine Walsh as Agnes, Dawn Bradfield as Rose, Andrea Irvine as Kate with John Kavanagh, Peter Gowen and Ben Price.
In 2009, the Old Vic Theatre in London presented a well-received production of the play starring Sorcha Cusack, Niamh Cusack, Sinéad Cusack and Andrea Corr.
Second Age Theatre Company presented a revival of the play which toured Ireland as part of a National Tour. Directed by David Horan, the cast included Donna Dent, Susannah de Wrixon, Maeve Fitzgerald, Kate Nic Chonaonaigh and Marie Ruane.
In February to April 2011, Alastair Whatley directed a production for the Original Theatre Company that toured the UK. The cast included Victoria Carling, Mairead Conneely, Patricia Gannon, Siobhan O'Kelly, Daragh O'Malley, Bronagh Taggart, Paul Westwood and Alastair Whatley.
The Irish Repertory Theatre, Manhattan, staged a new production of the play starting on 19 October 2011, directed by artistic director Charlotte Moore, billed as the 20th Anniversary Production. Ciaran O'Reilly was Michael; Annabel Hagg as Chris; Jo Kinsella – Maggie; Rachel Pickup – Agnes; Aedin Moloney – Rose; Orlagh Cassidy – Kate; Michael Countryman – Jack; and Kevin Collins as Gerry.
The Rome Savoyards theatre company staged an original production of the play directed by Sandra Provost at the 'Teatro San Genesio' from February 4 to February 9 to great acclaim. William O'Neill was Michael; Lydia O'Kane - Chris; Gabriella Spadaro - Maggie; Carolyn Gouger - Agnes; Fabiana De Rose - Rose; Shelagh Stuchbery - Kate; Michael Fitzpatrick - Jack and Shane Harnett - Gerry.
The Lyric Theatre in Belfast presented a revival of the play in association with the Dublin Theatre Festival, which toured both North and South of Ireland, with a cast featuring Catherine Cusack, Catherine McCormack and Mary Murray. Directed by Annabelle Comyn.
Main article: Dancing at Lughnasa (film)
Dancing at Lughnasa was adapted for a 1998 film of the same name starring Meryl Streep as Kate Mundy and directed by Pat O'Connor. Brid Brennan won an Irish Film and Television Award for Best Actor in a Female Role.
The first Lughnasa International Friel Festival (LIFF) occurred in August 2015. Dancing at Lughnasa, in the year of its 25th anniversary, was chosen as its signature production.