The final touches are being applied to the sets, the cast are having their last line runs and Aisteoirí Muinchille are ready to stage Brian Friel’s ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ this weekend. Fiona Coll’s pronouncement: “We all feel as if we have a responsibility to do it well and we are all well aware of that,” indicates the esteem all involved in the production have for one of the finest Irish plays written.
Composed in 1990, Dancing at Lughnasa is a landmark in Friel’s impressive cannon of work. Set in the fictional town of Ballybeg, Donegal in August 1936 it’s composed from the point of view of the Michael Evans, the narrator. He recounts the summer in his aunt’s cottage when he was seven years old.
The play focuses on the five Mundy sisters and their brother Jack. Kate Mundy is the eldest of the five sisters. As the only one with a steady job, Kate is the axis of the family and oversees the various conflicting personalities.
In ‘...Lughnasa’ we follow the Mundy sisters over the course of three weeks in this intimate portrait of this unusual rural Irish family. The household has a certain harmony, but as the sisters’ brother, Jack, returns home from the missions after 25 years away things start to change.
Fiona Coll is set to portray the 43-year-old school teacher Kate in the Aisteoirí Muinchille. Production: “We have been working on it since before Christmas and it’s full steam ahead since then. We had a dress rehearsal on Sunday and have our set all done. We were there last night and will be rehearsing again tonight, so we are feeling very good about it.”
Taking on one of Friel’s most noteworthy works is a daunting prospect: “It is definitely the most challenging production we have done to date. There is an awful lot involved in it. We are really raising the bar. There are Donegal accents, a Welsh accent, Irish dancing and we had a choreographer in to help us with our Charleston and our waltzing.”
That level of attention to detail demanded of the actors is continued through the production: “There is a lot of ‘business’ involved, things like making bread, keeping the groceries authentic to the period. It has been a great learning experience,” Fiona explained.
The company had to venture beyond the confines of Cootehill to fill out the cast for the demanding roles: “Not all of us are local. Dermot Hogan (Gerry Evans), Jim McQuaid (Fr Jack Mundy), Mary Brigid Duffy (Christina Mundy) and myself are all Cootehill. Sara Watson (Susie Mundy) is from Corcaghan in Monaghan, Elaine McQuaid (Rose Mundy) is also Monaghan. Angela McCrosson (Maggy Mundy) from Monaghan and Colm McCormick (Michael Mundy) from Rockcorry complete the cast. There is plenty of banter and slagging in the WhatsApp group.”
Director Larry McCluskey is putting the players through their paces: “My role is the strict school teacher and I have plenty of competition from Larry for that. It is a great learning curve for all of us. Sara has done some directing, as have I, and there is so much we can pick up from Larry in terms of set design, lighting and staging.
“Larry is very demanding, he wants the highest standards from all of us. That is great because when you take on something like Dancing at Lughnasa’ you want to do your best. We all feel as if we have a responsibility to do it well and we are all well aware of it.”
Dancing at Lughnasa’ by Brian Friel is coming to Drumlin House Theatre, Cootehill on March 9 and 10 at 8pm. Matinee performance on Sunday March 11 at 5pm. Tickets available on Eventbrite.