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Review: language, storytelling and leaving wanting more - Translations, National Theatre

Such a naive giddiness of emotion is ripe for tragedy

Translations national theatre poster colin morganColin Morgan's Owen is one of those airily bright and bubbly people who you suspect gets on with everyone.

He returns from the city to the small farming community where he grew up; he's earning good money as a translator for the English army which is mapping the area.

Ciaran Hinds' Hugh - Owen's alcoholic father - scratches a living as a teacher, entering the classroom with an authority that drapes the room in silence. He teaches Latin and Greek but refuses to teach English.

Owen's work includes anglicising the names of local landmarks for the map. He doesn't see the point of keeping eccentric old names which were born out of long forgotten local stories.

Hugh is more protectionist, wedded to tradition and the classics.

What should your relationship with the past and cultural traditions be?


The question is explored through the colourful characters that make up this small Irish community and its 'frenemy' relationship with the English soldiers.

It is this relationship that forms the narrative drive: Developing feelings and misunderstandings breed tension.

As does the pregnant absence of the 'Donnelly twins', the mere mention of which elicits uncomfortable looks.

They are playwright Brian Friel's equivalent of a Chekhov Gun.

Love triangle

There is also a love triangle. Owen's brother Manus (Seamus O'Hara) is in love with Maire (Judith Roddy) who has entered into a relationship with Yolland (Adetomiwa Edun), one of the English soldiers.

Yolland has a romanticised view of Ireland, wants to learn the local language and feels uncomfortable anglicising the Irish names.

Maire has a romanticised view of Yolland's home back in Norfolk, wants to learn English and escape.

Language doesn't appear to be a barrier to their flourishing feelings but such a naive giddiness of emotion is ripe for tragedy - the Chekhov gun.

Roddy's broken down Maire will pluck heavily at your heartstrings.

As will Michelle Fox's Sarah, the village girl with a stammer that renders her almost entirely mute. Her language is primarily one of gesture and facial expression but there is never any doubt as to how deeply she feels.

Commanding the stage

Morgan and Hinds both command the stage in very different ways.

The former gives Owen a friendly fluidity, enthusiasm and pragmatism which is infectious while the latter's presence bristles in a way that demands you pay attention.

If I have one criticism, it is in how the play sometimes feels like it is leaning towards the exploration of ideas at the expense of narrative drive.

Wanting more

Maybe it is because I was more drawn to the drama, rather than the discussion of ideas and felt my expectations of narrative conclusion weren't met. Maybe I was too busy concentrating on what was happening rather than what was being said but when the last line was delivered I felt a little short-changed.

Leaving wanting more can also be a good thing.

I'm giving Translations 4 stars, it's 2 hours 30 minutes including an interval and you can see it at the National Theatre until August 11.