April 25-27 in London

Dancing at Lughnasa at the Celtic Cafe

The Garden Suburb Theater in London presents: Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel

The play is on 25-26-27 April at the Institute, Central Square, Hampstead Garden Suburb.

Bus H2 from Golders Green or a 15-minute walk via Hoop Lane and Meadway. Tickets £6 (or £4.50 concessions), more off for parties of 10+

Thanks to Tony Newton for the following information about this production, and Michael Berg for the photos.

Garden Suburb Theatre veteran Val Gregory has really been longing to direct this play for years, since she first saw it. (Val has been in and directed many a play, and scored a great hit with a portrayal of Dolly Messiter in Brief Encounter when we did it last autumn). She has now lovingly and meticulously researched the accents, the region, the dance, the music (The Mason's Apron was especially hard to track down!) and she brought in a dialect coach from the Irish Arts Centre in NW London, and got loads and loads of help from the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. She took herself off to the area of Donegal where the fictional Ballybeg is located and absorbed some of the atmosphere. One of the actresses has changed the message on her answerphone to give a recorded greeting in a Donegal accent, that has convinced a lot of people! So with a mixed English, Jewish and South African cast, Val has created a little piece of Donegal in Hampstead Garden Suburb. Val is herself a retired music teacher who keeps her hand in!

Origin of LUGHNASA

The God Lugh was the grandson of evil King Balor who could kill with a glance. Balor had been told by a Druid that he would be killed by his grandson. So he locked his daughter Eithne away and surrounded her with female servants to stop her conceiving a child. These were the original inhabitants of Ireland - the Fomoire. Cian, Lugh's father, was a Shining God from the tribe, Il Danu, that came to Ireland in a ship that sailed the skies and began to win control control with a more generous hand than the kings. Cian seduced all of the handmaidens into acts of betrayal by an amazing demonstration of sex appeal, and finally reached Eithne, making every single one of them pregnant. The handmaidens all gave birth to seals, Eithne gave birth to Lugh, whose mixed race origins were one source of his strength. He was fostered and brought up by Talitu, a tribal Queen, and Mannanan McLir, the ruler of a mysterious island off the coast of Ireland and who controlled the seas. His foster parents gave him more strength by schooling him in an enormous range of skills, and he was known as Samildnach - Master of all the Arts. It was this that gave him his place in the mythical Hall of Kings, Tara, where only one practitioner of each art was normally allowed a place. He was unique in that he alone was a practitioner of all the arts. As the child and foster child of Gods and Kings from four distinct realms of the land and the heavens, he was already a powerful god in his own right. He did battle with his destructive grandfather and killed him.

Lugh's foster mother Tailtu had set herself the task of making Ireland fertile and as she finished making all the land fit for crops, she died of exhaustion. Lugh held a great feast for her, in her honour, at the start of August - this was Lughnasa - the original Lugnassadh translates as "Lugh's funeral feast." Lughnasa evolved throughout Ireland over the centuries as a time for ceremonial first cutting of the corn, collecting bilberries off the hillsides (they were seen as Lugh's gift to his people), tribal business and trade, and "Telltown marriages" - where couples could wed, and if it didn't work, release themselves a year a day afterwards by walking away from each other in opposite directions. At least 95 sites on hills and mountains and by lakes and rivers have been identified as places where the celebrations must have taken place - some people must have walked for miles to attend. But above all, dancing, dancing, dancing!!!


The symbolism is plain. Lugh, the giver and defender of crops, fighting the destructive evil eye - the drought-inducing sun and the destroyer of all that is good! The skilful and inventive beating the warlike and destructive. The good warrior keeping his people safe and fed. Work hard on the land and it will reward you, and you can dance your woes away. An agricultural deity for an agricultural people.

"Dancing at Lughnasa" by Brian Friel picks up on these tribal ceremonies. The play is set in August 1936, and the sisters of the Mundy family dance from a primal need, the minute they hear music. It releases tensions amongst them and they always have it, however they much fall into disgrace and poverty. Their brother Jack, a broken African missionary, parallels their dancing by bringing us the powerful memory of working with people who also have imperative tribal rhythms.

The music in Lughnasa is traditional Irish dance music but Brian Friel also shows the continuity of the drive by also using Cole Porter's Anything Goes as yet another tune to which their feet irresistibly begin tapping, even though their lives are becoming more and more difficult. They cling to their Marconi radio, that family, for all they are worth.

Dancing at Lughnasa is not about the god Lugh or his harvest festival, but about the way people are and how they defend themselves and keep going. In the same way that they always have!

**NOTE: The score for the film version of "Dancing at Lughnasa," starring Meryl Streep, is by none other than Riverdance's Bill Whelan.

Feature: Bernadette Price
Original Web Design: Alexander Servas

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