Translations, Lyric theatre, Belfast, April 30, 2022

By Conor O’Neill

Photography courtesy of Johnny Frazer

First performed in Derry/Londonderry’s Guildhall in 1980, Brian Friel’s Translations has won critical and popular acclaim across the globe and this Abbey Theatre and Belfast’s Lyric Theatre’s adaptation looks set to continue the play’s reputation as being one of the gems in Irish literature.

Friel stated the piece is about ‘language, and language alone’, but there’s lot more to this piece than the nuances of language. Set in 19th century Ireland a small town Baile Beag (Ballybeg) sees the English cartologists renaming all they see and a town in turmoil over its identity and future.

Captain Lancey (Howard Teale) and lieutenant Yolland (Aidian Moriarty) map the area while the locals dread potato blight and dream of new starts in the new world. English is to be the new norm and Leonard Buckley’s Owen translates their Irish tongue to the King’s English.

But the change is not welcome to all, patriarch Hugh (Brian Doherty) his learned friend and comedy offering Jimmy Jack (Ronan Leahy) as well as Manus (Marty Rea) hold on to old ideas and while not physically rebelling stand tall against the new ways. Others like Maire (Zara Devlin), Doalty (Andy Doherty), Bridget (Ruby Campbell) and the stuttering Sarah (Suzie Seweify) are either all for the new way of life or ambivalent.

The set is simple, the choice of music so subtle as to be hardly noticeable yet haunting in the play’s more tender or heart-rending moments. This lightness of touch gives the audience no other option but to hang on every word every character says, and there-in lies the pleasure.

The 10 actors’ CVs are impressive, and this is shown repeatedly through the close to two and a half hour running time. At first glance the two acts running time may fill the uninitiated with dread, but worry not, Friel’s use of language and plot, the actors skill and the deft direction means the time flies past.

Close and intimate theatre at its best.

Translations runs at Belfast’s Lyric theatre up to and including May 29th with matinees on the Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. The English and Irish sign language showing is on May 14th at 2.30, the captioned event is on May 21st and the audio described show on May 22nd.

For booking details visit or simply phone the box office on 02890 381081.

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