Review: Dancing at Lughnasa, Gala Theatre, Durham

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TOLD in a haze of memory not unlike its heady late-summer feel, Dancing at Lughnasa is a play of touching nostalgia set in 1930s Ireland of a family whose lives would soon be changed forever.

Based on the playwright’s own childhood of growing upon among his mother and four aunts, the now-grown narrator Michael relates the tumultuous summer of his childhood that was to be the last as he knew it.

It is a family on the edge of break-up and while the sisters are be keen to draw out the final moments of a long summer, what is truly being grasped at are things as they were.

The play is framed by nostalgia but what stops Friel’s play from being limited to an insular portrayal of family life is its scope.

Uplifted by touching moments of humour as the sisters make their best of their situation and the strong bonds they share, the evening proved a bittersweet showcase of changing family life with artful handling by its cast.

Despite its lengthy running time and gentle pace, Dancing at Lughnasa feels consistently fresh the touching portrait of lives on show.

The material is sensitively and delicately handled throughout by director Alastair Whatley, each sister wonderfully drawn so that even the simplest of scenes appears layered and with careful detail that deserves an attentive watch.

The intricacies of family life and impinging social changes are all brought to life brilliantly in Whatley’s achieved revival of Friel’s finest play.

With not a single weak performance from its eight-strong cast, expertly lit and with a beautiful set, Dancing at Lughnasa is a gem.