As Brian Friel's masterpiece Translations returns to the Abbey Theatre stage, Director of the Abbey Caitríona McLaughlin introduces her production, and tells us why 'the questions and provocations within Translations are particularly live and current in 2022'.
Great plays have space in them for everyone because not only are they about our shared humanity, they are also about a specific lived experience. Arguably Friel’s greatest play, Translations contains within its capacious yet precise contours the space to feel and therefore to see and hear ourselves in the interior lives of his characters. He invites us into a hallowed world that is alive with possibility, a world on the cusp of momentous change. As Joyce said: In the particular is contained the universal.
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Listen: RTÉ Arena talks to Caitríona McLaughlin about Translations at The Abbey
Translations couldn’t be more particular in its setting, and through the characters we experience love, fear, pain, desire, ownership, powerlessness, rage, isolation, loneliness, joy and confusion; a dizzying spectrum of human emotions. It is the richness of the internal lives of these characters that make this play such a gift to actors. As a director it is what has haunted me since I first came across it 25 years ago. It is in the layering of understanding, the specificity of languages – both spoken and sublimated - and in the profundity of what is being communicated, moment by moment, not only between the characters within the story but also between the playwright and his audience. This complexity inside the text has been the locus of my approach as director. It has been our starting point, our lodestar, and our compass in the rehearsal room.
Artists have always led the way in helping us understand the world we live in and our place in it. Every time we revisit a great work like this we have an opportunity to check in, adjust our thinking, and to question our assumptions.
2022 marks the centenary of partition on this island. Politically and socially, we are in the process of reframing our relationship with Europe and the UK, negotiating self-determination within a framework of collaborative cooperation. However, even as I write, oppressed peoples across the globe are being invaded, eroded and erased by neighbouring states with imperial imperatives, keen on regime change and on the removal of national and cultural identity. The importance of our language, of representation and identity, so central to how we see ourselves in the world, is again both urgent and necessary. Great plays constantly find fresh resonances.
My relationship to the play, and my desire to direct it as part of my first season stems from both of these places; its wider socio-political context and the space it creates for reflection and interpretation inside each of us. Of course, as a Donegal native I also feel that the play is about me. I see myself as of these people Friel is exploring, and recognise the external world as much as I identify with the internal world. But again, perhaps this is part of Friel’s mastery; he makes one feel he is writing about each of us individually and specifically, and each of us find versions of ourselves within that hedge school. So, to be making this work in collaboration with the Lyric Theatre in Belfast, and with Jimmy Fay and his team, is very significant.
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Watch: Audiences respond to Translations at The Abbey Theatre
Artists have always led the way in helping us understand the world we live in and our place in it. Every time we revisit a great work like this we have an opportunity to check in, adjust our thinking, and to question our assumptions. We think we know these plays, and yet they continue to surprise us. The questions and provocations within Translations are particularly live and current in 2022. As in 1833, when the play is set, it feels as if once again we are on the cusp of change, perhaps even the early stages of a new world order, both on this island and beyond it. If this is true we have choices to make; do we adapt or resist? The experience of engaging with this play right now is an opportunity for each of us to reflect on that choice.
"Urbs antiqua fuit-there was an ancient city…"
Translations is at the Abbey Theatre now, before embarking on a nationwide tour - find out more here.