It is 1833, and change is coming to rural County Donegal: While a hodgepodge group gather at an Irish-language hedge school to study classics of Greek and Latin literature, British army engineers arrive to map the country, draw new borders, and translate local place names into the King’s English. Languages and histories collide, kindling romance and inciting violence. A modern classic from an Irish master, directed by Studio’s Belfast-born Associate Artistic Director, Translations reminds us how personal the political can be.
Tired of having productions at The Abbey Theatre in Dublin and London-based theatres seen as evidence of their “success,” playwright Brian Friel and actor/director Stephen Rea—both of whom had roots in Northern Ireland and professional success in Dublin and London—hatched a theatre company to showcase the range and significance of work by Northern Irish artists. They co-founded the Field Day Theatre Company in the midst of Northern Ireland’s profound political and cultural unrest during the 1970s and 1980s.Read More
It’s 1833 in the fictional Irish village of Baile Beag. The part-time students at an informal hedge-school learn Greek and Latin while gossiping about the townspeople’s affairs—who’s leaving for America, who’s slacking in the field, whether anyone will actually attend the English-language national school that’s opening (you have to go full-time, you have to learn English)…and about the English soldiers who’ve arrived in town. The school is led by Hugh the headmaster, a charismatic storyteller, and his son Manus, an unpaid assistant who takes over when his father is drunk and late to class. The students are townsfolk, and include Manus’s would-be fiancé Maire, a bold young woman who wants to learn English and move to America—but might be persuaded to stay if Manus lands a job at the national school.Read More
Brian Friel (1929-2015) is one of Ireland’s most highly regarded playwrights. He was born near Omagh in County Tyrone, and his writing is informed by the lives, stories, and political context of this childhood in rural Northern Ireland. Referred to as the “Irish Chekhov,” Friel set many of his works in the fictional town of Ballybeg (which translates to “small town”) in County Donegal. From his focus on ordinary people negotiating family and their sense of home, Friel explores history, culture, and identity. Vital questions of political belief and personal faith play out in language that is vibrant and vernacular, threaded with irony and humor.Read More
Set in the 19th century, when the Irish language was under siege from forces within and beyond its borders, Translations premiered in 1980 at another moment of upheaval. By 1980, the violent sectarian conflict over the constitutional status of Northern Ireland known as the Troubles had been going on for a decade. Two competing narratives fueled the conflict: that of a Catholic minority fighting for their civil rights against a colonizing power and another of a Protestant majority trying to keep the peace against a violent paramilitary. These narratives created and entrenched definitions of the “Catholic” and “Protestant” identities for the Irish. Playwright Brian Friel and actor/director Stephen Rea forged a cultural organization to look for a third way, what Friel called “some kind of portmanteau term” of identity that “can embrace the whole island.” The Catholic Friel and Protestant Rea founded Field Day Theatre to produce plays that could shape the conversation about a new and distinctly Northern Irish identity from within their own culture. Translations, written by Friel and starring Rea, was its inaugural production.Read More
Brian Friel’s Translations opens to a barn filled with writing tablets, chairs, and books, where Greek and Latin weave into casual conversation. For hundreds of years, classical languages were a staple of Irish education. But through the 17th and 18th centuries, the English established Penal Laws that sought to marginalize the native Irish from political, economic, and cultural power. These laws—while aimed at Catholics (“the popish religion”), in practice affected the entire Irish population—prohibited Catholics from buying or owning land, running for office, or voting. They also restricted the use of the Gaelic language and traditional Irish education. The Act to Restrain Foreign Education (1695) asserted that “no person whatsoever of the popish religion shall publicly teach school, or instruct youth in learning, or in private houses teach or instruct youth in learning within this realm.”Read More