Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, Wed 23 Jan–Sat 2 Feb
The nearest thing we have to Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha county on our side of the Atlantic is another fictional place with an anchor in reality, Brian Friel’s Ballybeg, a made-up small town in Donegal with which audiences of his work, including those who saw the Lyceum’s Living Quarters or the NTS’ Molly Sweeney recently have become familiar. But if the town is fictional, it also has a history that chimes with the real history of Ireland.
In Translations Friel’s modern classic from 1980, we meet the inhabitants of this town in 1833, when it was called Baile Beag, but is in the process of having its name Anglicised. This task has fallen to a unit of the British army deputed to carry out an ordinance survey of the region. This colonisation process has tragic consequences for two British officers in the party, one of whom falls in love with a local girl, as well as for the indigenous villagers.
Andy Arnold, who’ll be directing this production for the Arches company on a visit to the Citz, is keen to stress the politicality of the piece. ‘People always talk about their favourite political plays of our era, and I always say Translations is my favourite political play, but there’s not a political word in it. There’s a sense of outrage at a massive injustice which underlies the whole play. The situation speaks volumes about the politics without seeming to say anything at all,’ he says. Yet, if the piece says much about imperial projects of our time as well as in the 19th century, it also speaks in an articulate register about human emotion. ‘They’re lovable characters who have a tremendous warmth to them, but they’re in a moment where everything is being taken away from them, their culture, their language, everything,’ he says. ‘There’s a real strength to the characters, and the play is driven by this. There’s a wonderful musicality to the language.’