Translations by Brian Friel at the National Theatre, London, from 22nd May 2018.
Colin Morgan (Humans, Merlin) plays Owen and Ciarán Hinds (Game of Thrones, Girl from the North Country) plays his father. Ian Rickson directs.
The script of Translations is available in Volume Two of Brian Friel’s Collected Plays.
‘The depth and richness of this 1980 classic by Brian Friel are sounded beautifully in Ian Rickson’s magnificent revival’ — The Independent
Translations, Brian Friel’s 1980 work about the inhabitants of a rural hedge school in 1830s Donegal, is a masterpiece. And like most masterpieces, it is easy to adapt its historical specifics to the here and now. As the question of border control threatens to divide Northern Ireland from the Republic; as abortion laws highlight moral differences; as the debate surrounding teaching Irish in schools turns into a political fist-fight between unionists and nationalists, Friel’s play about the power of language and its ability to divide us (and sometimes to help us fall in love) makes powerful new resonances come to the surface.
However, director Ian Rickson has made the admirable decision to avoid signposting such issues. This terrific, unfussy new production allows the audience to unpeel its own meaning, and the result is a simple but effective rendering of Friel’s lyrical, deeply moving work, focusing on the spoken word and the psychological realism of its characters. — The Telegraph
In a way, Friel’s play about a British Ordnance Survey expedition’s attempts to map and translate the place names of a rural slice of Donegal in 1833 is so rock solid that it’s tempting to think all director Ian Rickson needs to do is make sure his cast know their lines and point them in the right direction.
Its great conceit is a deceptively simple linguistic trick. As the play opens, in the hedge school run by intense, earnest teacher Manus (Seamus O’Hara) and his loquacious, self-mythologising father Hugh (Ciarán Hinds), we see a group of locals sitting around discussing Ancient Greek and Latin literature. Ten or so minutes in, it’s revealed that the ‘English’ they’re speaking is, in fact, Gaelic; when a contingent of British engineers led by Adetomiwa Edun’s Lieutenant Yolland show up, the entire cast continue to speak in English, but the two nationalities can’t understand each other (the Irish are further bemused that the British can’t speak Latin or Greek).
It is a brilliant idea: understated enough that Friel can use it to deftly tell a bilingual story without subtitles or whatnot, but much deeper in its symbolism. It’s poignant that the Irish characters are speaking in English because the language of the colonisers would go on to swallow these people whole in just a generation or two. It’s even more poignant that the British and Irish characters are technically speaking the same language but can’t understand one another – a perfect metaphor for the ongoing history of our two nations if ever there was one. — Time Out