Last night we went to see Brian Friel's 1990 play, Dancing at Lughnasa at the Royal and Derngate in Northampton.
In 1987, Brian Friel was walking in London with fellow playwright Tom Kilroy and they noticed some people sleeping rough. They were speculating about what the lives of the people must have been like before they ended up on the street, and Friel remarked that he had two maiden aunts who had ended up as vagrants in London - Kilroy suggested there would be a story in this. What resulted was Dancing at Lughnasa.
This play is the story of the five Mundy sisters, who live together in rural Donegal. All of them just past the prime of their youth, all unmarried, and their parents dead. There's Kate, a pious school teacher; Maggie, who loves to joke and riddle, and smoke her Woodbines; Agnes, who cooks for everyone and is the fastest knitter in Ballybeg, and who, along with Rose makes 'glove money' by selling what she makes. Rose is a child-woman, seemingly learning disabled, and at risk of licentious behaviour if not kept in check by her sisters... and lastly, there's Christina, who despite being unmarried has a seven-year old boy by a man she still loves, but is too worldy wise to ever trust completely. The story is narrated by the boy, now grown up, and he speaks as he remembers, though the boy he was is invisible on the stage.
The Lughnasa is a pagan festival of late summer, going into the harvest time, and the boy, Michael Evans, remembers that summer of 1936 with bittersweet memories of his aunts laughing and dancing to their radio, but also their sadness. Things turn sour as his uncle, Father Jack, returns from Africa in disgrace for having 'turned native', and this begins a chain of events that turn the sisters' lives upside down.
|The Mundy sisters dance like crazy|
The plot may seem uncomplicated, but this is a play that focuses on the characters, which are whole and real and you are completely emotionally involved in what happens to them. The style of narration adds layers of depth and understanding; empathy and alienation effects pulling your emotions this way and that. The conflicts between the sisters' characters are beautifully subtle, requiring excellent performances, which the women actors all provide. In particular, I loved Caroline Lennon's Maggie, and Sarah Corbett as Rose - they were great characters. Father Jack didn't seem to share his sisters' Irish accents, which puzzled me, but perhaps that was the effect of spending a few years in Africa? All in all, though, this was a superb production.
Top Date Night?
Absolutely! And dinner was also very tasty, and we had a lovely drink afterwards too.
Still in 'could do better' territory. Let's see how we did:
1. Cheap tickets. Pretty good here, tickets were again less than half the cheapest price for us with special preview arrangements. Win!
2. Taking bottled water/pop. Fail... so we bought pre-theatre drinks and interval drinks too.3. Walking to the venue - and back! Win! No cost here.
4. Choose an awkward mid-run weeknight so not tempted to follow the cast back to the pub for post-gig drinks. Fail - a massive one... OH bumped into an old work colleague at the theatre and hastily arranged a potential meet up in the Wig and Pen after the show. The fella didn't turn up, so we needn't have gone in. But we did, and OH went all goggle-eyed at the sweetie-like selection of whiskies on offer, and ordered one that cost £7.50! (:-0)
5. Either have a slow-cooker meal ready for after the show. Or have just one post-gig drink, maybe. A bit of a fail... we realised we couldn't wait that long to eat, or the rest of the audience would have been shushing our stomachs! So we had our evening meal at The Cordwainer - 2 meals for £6.29. OH had steak and kidney pudding with chips, peas and gravy, and I had chilli con carne with rice, tortilla chips and sour cream. Filling and very nice. With that real ale and cider was £2.15 a pint, so that was a bargain, but other drinks throughout the night came to a lot more!
Meal + a drink + theatre had the potential to cost as little as £21 for the pair of us. We clearly persuade each other to transgress. Looking at the positives, we could have spent more and didn't have to and had a lovely time. However... we can't afford this. Even as a bargain. And I'm learning of other 'can't refuse' social occasions that we also can't afford and I don't know what to do. The answer is to say, sorry we can't go... but I fear it won't be easy. I fear causing upset. But something must be done.