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In our study morning on Friday, April 6, An Introduction to Irish Drama, Dr Richard Moore looks at the work of Brian Friel.
What is it that makes him special? Why does he seem appropriate for putting our toe in the vast riches of Irish dramatist waters? Perhaps one reason is that his work fulfils two key criteria.
First, like most great art, it takes the particular and makes it universal. It gives it timeless and general relevance – it strikes a lasting chord.
Second, it is rich in possibilities, in shading and in nuance. It never descends from the picture to the diagram or moves from the individual to the category. It shows life in all its complexity, reaching beyond the tools of the propagandist to the vision of the humane philosopher.
The two plays we are going to examine are Translations and Dancing at Lughnasa. Friel has said that Translations is “a play about language and only about language”, but it deals with a wide range of issues, from language and communication to Irish history and cultural imperialism.
The play is full of humanity, most notably in a moving scene where an Irish-speaking woman and an English-speaking British soldier express their love simply through naming places that are known and dear to them. Given that the British are in the process of anglicising Irish place-names, and that the soldier is part of the process, this has particular poignancy.
Dancing at Lughnasa is just as rich. In some ways it is even more painful while also containing much intermittent humour. Friel here draws on his own family history, but also on his own experience of false memory.
Two of Friel’s aunts endured a life of destitution in London after leaving the family home. This casts a long shadow over the recollections of the main character’s seemingly rather delightful summer.
The full significance of false memory syndrome and of the Festival of Lughnasa will be made clear during the study morning, but what we should most take away from it is a sense of the playwright’s humanity; Friel always sees more than one side to a question and is never strident in proclaiming his social and political beliefs. He is man for all men (and women) – a man for all seasons. Getting to know him is a humbling and enriching experience.
The study morning is from 10am to 1pm. You do not have to know the plays to enjoy it. Tickets cost £9 and refreshments will be provided. To book, email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 01289 303254.