Set over the course of one summer month in 1936 around the pagan harvest festival of Lughnasa (Irish for August), the action comes in vivid and spirited memory-filtered flashbacks from our narrator Michael, of his childhood home filled with mother, four aunts and recently returned missionary uncle, Father Jack. In the village of Ballybeg in rural Donegal, Michael introduces us to his family in a functional cottage and lush green surroundings, as these characters are in a brief window of time.Head of the household and main breadwinner Kate (Michele Moran), a school teacher at work and at home, fights to hold the family together and to cure the returned Father Jack who is sent home after ‘going native’ in Uganda. Younger sisters Agnes (Grainne Keenan) and ‘simple’ Rose's (Sarah Corbett) small livelihood from knitting gloves is threatened by a nearby factory; the industrial revolution is finally catching up with the West of Ireland. Determined joker Maggie (Caroline Lennon) probably steals the show with her resolute humour and riddle tick. It is played with care, delight and perfect timing. Michael’s tarnished mother Christina (Zoe Rainey) plays her emotional transitions beautifully with the reliable return and flight of Michael’s charming, Fred Astaire fanboy father Gerry (Milo Twomey) who dances in and out of the picture with the frequency of Lughnasa. Twomey’s performance is excellent, he is as unlikeable as he is appealing, ensnaring all with his welsh twang and fancy feet.
Swathed in a thirties soundtrack wafting from Marconi (the christened wireless with just the right amount of nostalgic crackle), the action is interspersed with Michael’s narrative of the pasts and futures of our family, while we watch for pointers in the present.
The movement of the cast, whether reeling round the table in ritualistic exuberance or the purposeful switching of positions and possessions, was measured and effective in execution, chapeau choreographer Quinny Sacks. Naomi Dawson’s set of skeletal cottage beams and half a sycamore suspended above a mossy clearing is stunningA talented company have brought out the best in a near masterpiece of dramatic writing. Richard Beecham’s production is excellent and accomplished, and just made me remember my affection for Friel. Bri, ‘I love you more than chocolate biscuits’.