Young performers do mature roles justice. Review of Dancing at Lughnasa, Tobacco Factory
The Bristol Old Vic Theatre School has been producing stars of the stage and screen since 1946 when it was opened by Lawrence Olivier. Notable graduates from the school include people such as Brian Blessed, Daniel Day Lewis, Patrick Stewart and Gene Wilder. This month, a pair of plays are being presented in Bristol as a showcase for the graduating class of 2012. The Good Soul of Szechaun opens at the Old Vic on the 14th while this past Monday night saw the opening night of Brian Friel's Dancing at the Lughnasa.
Loosely based on Friel's own childhood, the play, told in flashback, is concerned with the changing family dynamic between his mother and his aunts who lived together in rural Ireland during the 1930s when they were challenged by both social and religious tensions. Their sickly older brother arrives home after decades in Uganda as a missionary and his pagan beliefs clash with that of Aunt Kate's strict Roman Catholic upbringing, while the approach of industry into Ireland threaten the other women's very livelihood. There's also the exploration of unrequited love, with the women either exploited or disappointed by their relationships with men.
The first and most obvious thing about the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School's presentation of the play is how spectacular it looks. The set, a meticulously observed recreation of a rustic farmhouse with a giant tree at its wall with branches that wind themselves around the lights in the ceiling of the theatre is a marvel to behold.
Performance wise, though it may initially be jarring to view young actors playing parts normally set aside for more mature actors, and some of the Irish accents are a little shaky, there are a number of fine performances, with Jennifer Greenwood as the domineering matriarch Aunt Kate and Cate Cammack as the free-spirited Aunt Maggie being particular stand outs.
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Dancing at Lughnasa is a superb play, full of rich and nuanced characters and it serves as an excellent showcase for the talents of those involved. Perhaps the highest praise that can be said is that they do ample justice to it.