Dancing at Lughnasa

Play by Brian Friel. It is 1936 and harvest time in County Donegal. In a house just outside the village of Ballybeg live the five Mundy sisters, barely making ends meet, their ages ranging from twenty-six up to forty. The two male members of the household are brother Jack, a missionary priest, repatriated from Africa by his superiors after twenty-five years, and the seven-year-old child of the youngest sister.

In depicting two days in the life of this menage, Brian Friel evokes not simply the interior landscape of a group of human beings trapped in their domestic situation, but the wider landscape, interior and exterior, Christian and pagan, of which they are nonetheless a part.

Original West End London Production 1990

1st West End London Revival 2009

Brian Friel's other London theatre plays include The Home Place and Faith Healer.

Original West End London Production 1990

Previewed 13 October 1990, Opened 15 October 1990, Closed 1 January 1991 at the National Theatre's Lyttelton Theatre
Previewed 21 March 1991, Opened 25 March 1991, Closed 16 November 1991 at the Phoenix Theatre
Transferred from 19 December 1991, Closed 13 March 1993 at the Garrick Theatre

Brian Friel's new play Dancing at Lughnasa in London directed by Patrick Mason with designs by Joe Vanek and presented by the Abbey Theatre in Dublin.

The original London cast at the Lyttelton Theatre featured Rosaleen Linehan as 'Kate Mundy', Brid Brennan as 'Agnes Mundy', Brid Ni Neachtain as 'Rose Mundy', Anita Reeves as 'Maggie Mundy', Catherine Byrne as 'Chris Mundy', Gerard McSorley as 'Michael', Stephen Dillane as 'Gerry', and Alec McCowen as 'Jack'.

The original West End cast at the Phoenix Theatre featured the Lyttelton Theatre cast, with the exception of Robert Gwilym who took over the role of Gerry' from Stephen Dillane.

Directed by Patrick Mason, with choreography by Terry John Bates, designs by Joe Vanek, lighting by Trevor Dawson, and sound by Christopher Shutt.

"If Brian Friel had called his beautiful new play The Five Sisters, and subtitled it 'a variation on Chekhovian themes', he would not be vastly misrepresenting its content and feel... In form, this is another Irish memory-play. It is 1936. As the wheat field invading the sisters' kitchen suggests, it seems also to be one of those golden summers that stay magically imprinted on the mind. This time, mind and memory belong to Michael, Chris's love-child, who stands watching his relatives and his seven-year-old self from the stance of the future. For him, it was the time when his father, a feckless Welshman, came to visit; his Uncle Jack, a profoundly unorthodox missionary, returned from Uganda; and the family began to disintegrate. Patrick Mason's cast, from the Abbey in Dublin, bring character after character deftly yet robustly to life." The Times

"Is Brian Friel the Irish Chekhov? He certainly wrests poetry from everyday life and, since Friel's latest play, Dancing at Lughnasa, imported to the Lyttelton Theatre from Dublin's Abbey Theatre, features five unfulfilled sisters, comparisons with the great Russian are inevitable. But watching this strange, haunting, powerful play, another work altogether came to mind: the Bacchae of Euripides. Like Euripides, Friel presents us with a conflict between reason and passion... On one level, this is a touching memory-play about a group of Catholic women trapped by economic circumstance. On a much deeper level, it is about the undeniability of primitive, atavistic passion... All five sister are so good that one must name them individually: Catherine Byrne as the beautiful Chris, Rosaleen Linehan as the purse-lipped Kate, Anita Reeves as the sex-starved Maggie, Brid Ni Neachtainas simple Rose, and Brid Brennan as the shy Alice. Gerald McSorley as Micheal steers us through the narration without seeming oppressively omniscient. And, joining the cast since Dublin, are Stephen Dillane, very good as the nimble-footed Welshman, and Alec McCowen, who is astonishing as Jack." The Guardian

"Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa has nearly all the virtues: wit, pathos, intelligence and imagination. It also has a touch of whimsy or Irish feyness. The production by Dublin's Abbey Theatre is at times a little slow, though perhaps that is unavoidable when you are dealing with rural life in Donegal in 1936. The play is beautifully written throughout, and the monologues spoken by Gerard McSorley are in almost perfect prose... Friel has been frequently compared with Chekhov. Because Dancing at Lughnasa involves five sisters, the comparisons will be made again, though the play that came most to my mind was Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba without the oppressiveness. The sisters live together: only one of them has a child. This is Michael, who never appears. His lines are spoken by McSorley who is also Michael grown up and whose main function is to provide the connecting narrative. The device works. In fact, everything works." The Financial Times

Dancing at Lughnasa in London at the Phoenix Theatre previewed from 21 March 1991, opened on 25 March 1991, and closed on 16 November 1991, transferred to the Garrick Theatre from 19 December 1991, and closed on 13 March 1993.

1st West End London Revival 2009

Previewed 26 February 2009, Opened 5 March 2009, Closed 9 May 2009 at the Old Vic Theatre

A major revival of Brian Friel's award-winning play Dancing at Lughnasa in London starring Andrea Corr and Niamh Cusack

Brian Friel's passionate portrait of the five Mundy sisters follows their loss of love and opportunity played out against the echoes of the twentieth century with a dark humour, raw energy and tenderness. A bittersweet reflection of rural Ireland in the thirties on the brink of industrialisation.

The cast featured Michelle Fairley as 'Kate Mundy', Susan Lynch as 'Agnes Mundy', Simone Kirby as 'Rose Mundy', Niamh Cusack as 'Maggie Mundy', Andrea Corr as 'Chris Mundy', Peter McDonald as 'Michael', Jo Stone-Fewings as 'Gerry', and Finbar Lynch as 'Jack'.

Directed 'in-the-round' by Anna Mackmin with choreography by Scarlett Mackmin, designs by Lez Brotherston, lighting by Paule Constable and sound by Gareth Fry.

"Exquisite melancholy is what Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa has to offer. It's a genre at which the Irish excel only slightly less than the master of comic gloom, Chekhov, and this is the most Chekhovian of Friel's plays... and almost 20 years on, the finely judged brilliance of Friel's script remains undimmed. For this new production, the director Anna Mackmin's casting is almost pitch perfect." The Sunday Telegraph

"Finbar Lynch is amusingly skew-whiff, retaining a stiff-backed pontifical manner while discombobulated by malaria, and all the sibling tensions are nicely focused in Anna Mackmins intimate in-the-round staging complete with kitchen sink and cast-iron stove, flagstones and encircling green grass... This production, though enjoyable, doesn't quite take off." The Independent on Sunday

"It looks like the perfect Irish play. That is the boon and the bane of Dancing at Lughnasa. Brian Friel's 1990 drama is set in 1936 in rural Donegal, with Ireland on the brink of dissolution... Peter McDonald's far too rhetorical narrator makes Friel's daring device - in which a man looks back on the action, describing it in what is obviously an unreliable way - look cumbersome. That's a serious fault, as the point of the play is to suggest that it is sceptical about sentiment and recollection. But the sisters do it proud." The Observer

"There are plenty of leisurely monologues of intellectual delicacy, gentleness and endless suggestiveness. There are also some brilliant formal devices, most powerfully an epilogue that reveals the fate that awaits two of the sisters... Ultimately, though, while beautifully acted, Anna Mackmin's production doesn't have quite enough sense of that requisite haunting atmosphere. The music and lighting don't do enough, things are sometimes rather static, and there's not enough strangeness and eeriness." The Sunday Times

"Brian Friel's 1990 drama, set in 1936, takes us to the Donegal home of the five unmarried Mundy sisters. Together they cook, squabble, look after youngest sister Chris's illegitimate son Michael and indulge in reckless jigs around the kitchen table, much to the chagrin of eldest sister Kate, a high-minded Catholic with an inbred terror of paganism... Anna Mackmin's production gives the sisters' poverty a romantic gloss but captures beautifully their exultant, frustrated appetites and the transcendent nature of dance as a metaphor for sex and freedom. Andrea Corr is a fine, sweet~faced Chris but the real acting colours go to Niamh Cusack's earthily humoured Maggie and Susan Lynch's Agnes, who has few words but fierce feelings - for simple, vulnerable Rose and for Chris's erstwhile lover Gerry." The London Metro

Dancing at Lughnasa in London at the Old Vic Theatre in London previewed from 26 February 2009, opened on 5 March 2009 and closed on 9 May 2009.