Lughnasa was a pagan festival that took place at the beginning of harvest in Ireland and other countries (It still exists in some areas today).
Dancing at Lughnasa is set around this festival in early August 1936. The five Mundy sisters, all single, are at home outside Ballybeg, a small village in County Donegal. Their uncle Jack, a priest (Finbar Lynch), has recently returned 'under a cloud' from missionary work in Uganda. He no longer sees any difference between the religious and the secular and his mind often stumbles for appropriate words.
The audience is drawn in as the narrator, the adult Michael (Peter McDonald), who is the son of the youngest daughter, Chris (Andrea Corr), looks back to his childhood years growing up in the bosom of this entirely female family. As he reflects he circles the simply staged yet perfect 'in the round' set as the Mundy women persevere to come to terms with what life throws at them. 'Marconi', the affectionately named new wireless, is the first catalyst for their passionate dancing which bursts like electricity onto the stage. The dancing of the sisters complements the musicality of their speech and supports them in holding onto a fragmenting situation. Brian Friel has written a panoply of human emotions which resonates throughout the evening. Bold, efficient, fanciful, imaginative, inspired, meek, prejudiced, resigned are all words that part describe these different women.
Gerry (Jo Stone -Fewings), the itinerant father of Michael and the love of Chris's life, punctuates the narrative with unexpected appearances. He is fickle but has a spontaneity that is adored by Chris and condemned by Kate (Michelle Fairly) the sober, staid schoolteacher. It is the down to earth, insightful and empathetic Maggie (Niamh Cusack) who prefers one wild woodbine to a fat 52-year-old man who keeps the fragile cracks from totally collapsing.
At the end of the play we learn that Chris, Maggie and Kate continue with their lives in Ireland while Agnes (Susan Lynch) and Rose (Simone Kirby) prompted by circumstances beyond their control secretly take their leave ' we are gone for good, this is the best for us, do not try to find us.' A harsh fate is in store.
The play is poignantly and brilliantly questioning memory while underlining the hopes and longings of us all. Dancing is the authentic language for the Mundy sisters. Friel closes with the following words from Michael as he ends his narration… dancing as if language no longer existed because words were no longer necessary...
Go and see this play written almost twenty years ago by one of the finest Irish playwrights. Brian Friel has just celebrated his eightieth birthday and director Anna Mackmin and her entire team at The Old Vic have done him proud.