Mice and Mentors Co-op
by Brian Friel
Director Bert Steinmanis Costume design Naomi Lazarus Lighting Sean Tyson Music Ian Alexander Martin Stage Manager Laura Dodwell-Groves
When a strong military power endeavours to impose its culture on a weaker community it will always be met with resistance. The arrogant, belligerent armed force may find that it has more brawn than brain. It may also find the conquered to be more civilized and wiser than the invaders and it will certainly find the inability to converse in a common language an insuperable barrier to understanding and ultimate peaceful relations. So it is with Brian Friel's Translations.
When the English governing powers decree that military maps should be made of Ireland and the local place names anglicized, the Irish are affronted. The little village of Baile Beag, in County Donegal in the Ireland of 1833, is a microcosm of a conflict that persists today.
A classical scholar and his son run a hedge school for the village in this rural area. The pupils are all adults of varying ages, come to glean what education is available to them after their day's work. The school is in a sparsely furnished room with little in the way of books and writing material but the education is of the high standard of the classical education of the day.
Among the pupils is Sarah, a young woman with a serious speech defect, beautifully and sensitively played by Julia Henderson. She is helped in her efforts to accomplish articulation by Manus (Adam Henderson) the schoolmaster's lame son, who is also a scholar and teacher.
Another pupil is Jimmy Jack (Glenn Surzyshyn) a middle aged farm hand, with a prodigious knowledge of Greek and Latin and a mischievous sense of humour. He delights in trading erudite jokes with Hugh, the senior dominie, who enters the schoolroom after attending a local christening where he has traditionally liberally "wetted the child's head." Derek C. Carr is an imposing figure, who commands attention, and gets it. His is the dominating presence in any scene in which he appears.
The attractive Maire (Lara Rose Tansy) is the girl all the lads are after. Bridget and Doalty (Rebecca Walters and Jaime Ogden) make up the rest of the class.
Into the midst of the evening's instruction bursts Owen, Hugh's younger son, just returned from England. Michael Shore is this exuberant, conceited and crafty young man. He brings news that a company of English soldiers is being stationed in the village to carry out a geographical survey to make a new map of the country. The military speak only English and Owen is attached to the company as their interpreter. In this capacity Owen will amuse himself by misinterpreting information, and by deriding his father and brother for their preference for learning rather than wealth.
The aristocratic Captain Lancey (Kennedy Goodkey), accompanied by his lieutenant, George Yolland (Jon Paterson), appears in the shabby schoolroom, clearly regarding the villagers as ignorant peasants. For his part, Hugh expects Lancey, as an aristocratic gentleman, to be able to converse in Latin or Greek, since he cannot speak the local language, and Hugh will not speak English if he does not have to.
Soon Hugh is invited to head the new, English, state school in a nearby town and Manus is accepted as the new schoolmaster in a village some miles away. Poor Sarah is devastated, as she will have no one left to help her learn to speak and she is very fond of Manus.
George Yolland falls in love with the countryside and with Maire, and tries to learn some of the local language. Maire, in her turn, has fallen for the lieutenant. They try to converse and Maire invites him to attend the dance in the village. During an interlude Maire and Yolland understand each other by signs and intuition, in a scene of stammering intimacy, well and amusingly played.
Later the body of the lieutenant is found murdered and suspicion falls on Manus. While the young men hustle Manus away to distant county Mayo the captain threatens reprisals if the culprit is not found.
Maire is left lonely and her dreams of leaving the village for a fuller life are gone. For both young women the loss of communicating skills is devastating.
Lack of language, lack of understanding and lack of respect for another culture all contribute to the destruction of the peace and humanity of Baile Beag, which is left in a state of uncertainty at the end of the play.
Naomi Lazarus's costumes are the best she is able to present on a very limited budget and most are effective, particularly those of the women. Ian Alexander Martin supplies suitable music for the dance, and other sound effects.
The actors did not all seem to be quite comfortable in this production. Whether it was the less than convenient physical amenities of the theatre or the ill-fitting of some of the clothes or a misunderstanding between the director and the cast is uncertain. With one exception, these actors are capable of better performances than those on the opening night.
© 2005 Jane Penistan