Theatre in Wales

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A beautifully nuanced production

At Theatr Clwyd

CLWYD THEATR CYMRU, MOLD- Dancing at Lughnasa , CLWYD THEATR CYMRU, MOLD , October 9, 2010
At Theatr Clwyd by CLWYD THEATR CYMRU, MOLD- Dancing at Lughnasa I must admit that Brian Friel's most popular play has never been my favourite. Up to now I have found Dancing at Lughnasa has seemed flimsy compared to the riches of Translations or Faith Healer.

Now is the time though to change my mind as Kate Wasserberg's production at Mold weaves an enchanting spell through the whole theatre. What in other productions appeared weaknesses, a certain wispiness in the story telling combined with an apparent heavy-handedness in the adult Michael's stories of his memories and of what became of his aunts, here become strengths.

The contrast between the reality to come and the threads of memory the growing child holds on to, shifting and becoming insubstantial as life goes on, is one of the play's supporting pillars. The director has shown in her past productions how well she can create a fragile atmosphere. The sort where you find yourself holding your breath in case you somehow break it apart. This, her first solo main stage production, proves that she still has that ability even in a much larger space.

The set helps, a simultaneously real (the water pump works) yet unreal (the interior scenes are not surrounded by walls) but utterly convincing grass-covered Irish hillside which designer Max Jones brings right out into the audience.

What gives the production its true power is the ideal cast that has been assembled. Brendan Charleson makes you listen to every word of his adult monologues then slips into creating the child Michael with real subtlety. He crouches, watching his aunts talk to his invisible young self with a wistful smile of affectionate memory playing on his lips.

The aunts themselves are fiercely separate yet convincingly still held by strong family bonds. Jenny Livsey gives Kate, the purse-lipped religious one, enough true family feeling to make you see that the fierceness comes from a real belief in her duty. Hedydd Dylan is utterly convincing as Maggie, the plain one with a ferocious sense of fun.

Catrin Aaron as Chris, Michael's mother, glows with her stifled romantic nature, which comes bursting through when his charming wastrel of a father pays a visit. Alys Thomas is quietly delightful as pretty Agnes and Louise Collins is a bundle of barely controllable energy as lovely but slow Rose. It's these two who will make this the last day of a united family and when you hear of their ultimate fates it's very disturbing.

John Cording is powerfully vulnerable as Jack, the missionary returned from Africa under a cloud. The outsider who oozes Welsh charm and , it must be said, palpable insincerity is winningly played by Simon Nehan. You know that nothing he promises his son will ever materialise but you can't help being won over by him.

Everything about this beautifully nuanced production works, not least the sudden outburst of dance from the sisters, full of raw energy that seems to come from the very soul.

Reviewed by: Victor Hallett

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