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The Guardian Review

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Translations When Brian Friel’s Translations first appeared to the public, it became an instant achievement and soon-to-be classic. It has now been reawakened by director Ian Rickson, with an impeccable lineup of actors, musicians, and designers. The stage of The National Theatre is filled with the passion of language displayed as a simple story of Ireland in 1833 unfolds to convey the intricate interpretations of the countries culture. Set in Baile Beag, a fictional village imagined by Friel, many of the scenes center around a provincial hedge school in which a handful of students are taught Latin and Greek.

Historically, this was a time of transition in the early 1830’s as the national school board implemented all schooling in Ireland to be taught using the English language. The professor of the school carries on in his established teaching using Gaelic, yet English language thrusts its way in wearing the dress of a British soldier. Friel delves into these changes to the country and its culture by displaying individual reactions to a shared obstacle. While Maire treats English dialect as a fresh adventure, Hugh struggles with the transition that inevitably awaits him. Contrasting this is Yolland’s affinity with Ireland and its enchantments. His true romance lies with Maire, displayed in a wistful yet passionate performance between Adetomiwa Edun (Yolland) and Aoife Duffin (Maire). The passion in their gestures somehow transcends the looming presence of language in the play. This transcendence carries through to the set.

The spacious stage becomes very intimate at times, and at others it is easy to imagine the world outside the small hedge-school expands for miles, even though the stage only goes a few more feet. The gloomy, oppressive clouds that linger above the unfolding events below give feeling to the newly forced language and its engulfing effects. Partnered with the meticulous score by Stephen Warbeck, the pieces come together to ignite a reaction to each scene that could not be complete purely through the telling of a simple story. Rickson’s direction breathes new life into a timeless piece of work, grabbing each audience member to draw upon a personal experience through language, its limitations, and its endless possibilities. Translations is a melancholy yet entertaining display of historical transition, but its stunning success lies in its perpetuity of the issues of physical and expressional borders.

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