Having lived in my home village of Muff for many years, Brian Friel is still known and regarded as a local here. His home in Ardmore will always be referred to as Brian Friel’s house.

Translations by Friel was performed recently at the Millennium Forum in Derry as part of the City of Culture year. Having been an avid fan of Friel’s work for many years, particularly this play, I was really looking forward to the stage production. I studied Translations at both BA and MA level and expected more from on stage. Directed by Adrian Dunbar, an actor himself, I expected a more professional and slick production from him.

Translations is set in a hedge school in the small fictional Irish town of Baile Beag in 1833, and deals with the appearance of members of the British army who are undertaking to translate the place names from ancient Irish Gaelic to the King’s English. Hugh the headmaster and his son Manus teach in the school. Hugh’s other son Owen arrives home unexpectedly to assist the British Army’s Lieutenant Yolland map the countryside and anglicise the Irish townland names. A comical love triangle ensues between Yolland, Manus and local girl Maire. Owen is doing the translating for the British Army.  The clash of cultures prevalent throughout the play result in a series of misunderstandings and misinterpretations which serve to highlight that language plays a central role in the development of society and civilisation. Without a shared, common method of communication chaos will prevail and instability will rule the day. This is indeed the end result in Translations.

I was disappointed in the portrayal of Hugh, the schoolmaster. On studying the play text he comes across as drunk and demanding, and did not reflect on the stage. Many of the actors failed in speaking in a Donegal accent. Manus (the headmaster’s stay-at-home lame son) was not only lame of limb but also in his portrayal of the character.

Sarah came across as a stuttering dummy. Sarah is more than simply alienated in this drama. She represents something much greater than a character dealing with the insufficiencies of life. She is representative of a people’s loss of tongue and name. Her isolation symbolises the translation from Gaelic to English which is happening in the world surrounding her. Her silence reflects the silence of the Irish people as they are being invaded by the British. This very theme failed to come across on stage in this production. I felt the characters failed to own the stage.

At the book launch of The Flight of the Earls/Imeacht na nIarlaí, (Editors David Finnegan, Éamonn Ó Ciardha and Marie-Claire Peters), in Letterkenny April 2011, Brian praised the publication but also criticised certain flaws in its ‘translation’. I’m sure he’ll agree that a lot was also ‘lost in translation’ in the production of his own play on the Derry stage.

Translations is an amazing piece of drama and I will be very interested to hear Brian’s opinion of it when I next meet him.