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Dancing at Lughnasa

Yesterday evening marked my first visit to the Old Vic on the curiously named The Cut, just over the road from Waterloo station, to see Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa. I seem to automatically expect more from an Irish play than any other, just as I do from Irish-penned novels and stories. An expectation borne from hereditary pride and a degree of creative superiority built up from a sure foundation. The stereotypical gift of the gab played large, or even just played with poetic concision. The gift of the gab was here, in Dancing at Lughnasa, but a little too much for my liking. I felt Andrea Corr played her part well, better than well, as the mother of michael, the narrator looking back on his seven year old self in this household of aunties and a malaria stricken pagan 'bewildered' priest of an uncle who had spent twenty-five years in Uganda. Dancing at Lughnasa is a 'memory play' and I felt, perhaps appropriately given the often unreliable or sketchy nature of memory, that it was all a bit too... unresolved. At one point in the second half Michael tells us how two of his aunts whose names I cannot recall off the top of my head, will eventually find their way to London where they will end up as toilet attendants and cleaners, and then die in a hospice or due to exposure, homeless on the Embankment. I would quite like to have been shown this tragic outcome in some way, and not simply learn it from it being dropped in like this. Yet, when the play opened I felt a stirring of emotion, as though my expectations of a great play were about to be fulfilled, yet it never quite did it. There were great scenes. One in which all five of the aunts danced around the kitchen, where Kate, the school-teacher sister whom I thought shone much brighter than the other actors, was able to dance stiffly the typical and formal Irish dance, her hands rigidly stuck by her side, in stark contrast to the leg waving jigs of her looser sisters. What also did not help one jot was the fact that I found myself seated, in the second half, (I had changed seats with my friend so we were both subject to the ordeal) next to a fidget. Actually, fidget cannot suitably describe this woman who, every ten seconds or so would twitch or move, or play with her hair, or bite her nails or sigh or cross her legs, or uncross her legs until at one point I wanted to knock her on the head, or simply ask her whether she was at all unwell because no well person could ever twitch and fidget so much. But I didn't, I simply gritted my way through it and tried, unsuccessfully, to ignore her. But still, both myself and my friend, came away feeling that, whilst much was good and funny and poignant, overall it hadn't quite been the ticket.

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