Theatre review: Translations, Edinburgh

Brian Friel play  Translations at the King's Theatre
Brian Friel play Translations at the King's Theatre
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A CRACKING story of love, miscommunication and colonisation, Translations has humour and tension. Yet in the closing moments it simply loses the plot and dwindles away.

King’s Theatre, Leven Street * * *

The Brian Friel play centres on a Donegal hedge school during the first part of the 1800s.

To demonstrate the problems created by the inability to communicate, the characters speak a number of languages, but most of the dialogue is in English.

Even the simplest conversation becomes complex and convoluted, while allowing the audience to understand all the languages and the nuances of the dialogue.

This technique acts as a metaphor to highlight the communication problem that transcends language, impacting upon culture, location and the generationa gap. Very clever, not to mention the perfect foil with which to introduce some moments of real humour.

All this acts as a counterpoint to the actual story. The pompous schoolmaster’s son Owen (Dermott Hickson) returns to the village with a detachment of English army officers. The army is there to create an OS map, and Owen’s task is to help Lieutenant Yolland (Paul Woodson) translate the Irish place names into an acceptable anglicised version.

All well and good, but Yolland and feisty local lass Maire (Jade Yourell) embark on an affair which produces one of the finest points in the play when the lovers manage to communicate despite the language barrier.

However, their partnership creates resentment and starts a chain of events which sees Yolland vanish; the suggestion being that he has come to harm.

The story unfolds at breakneck speed as the army respond, threatening dire consequences. Meanwhile, the army camp is set on fire.

All exciting stuff. But then the story, well, grinds to a halt in an ending that leaves the audience somewhat confused and perhaps disappointed.

It would not have been out of place had a ‘to be continued’ sign appeared. The result is an enthralling story with an ending that – while perhaps remarkably clever – fails to meet the needs of those who hoped for a satisfying dénouement.