Dancing At Lughnasa by Brian Friel

  • Tuesday, 19th March 2013 at 7:30pm
  • Wednesday, 20th March 2013 at 7:30pm
  • Thursday, 21st March 2013 at 7:30pm
  • Friday, 22nd March 2013 at 7:30pm
  • Saturday, 23rd March 2013 at 3pm
  • Saturday, 23rd March 2013 at 7:30pm

Location: The Dixon Studio, Palace Theatre, Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, UK

This event is in the past.

About the play
Premiered at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, this multi-award winning play is about five impoverished spinster sisters in a remote part of County Donegal in 1936. With them live Michael, seven-year-old son of the youngest sister, and Jack, the sisters elder brother, a missionary priest newly returned from Africa.

Michael’s father, a charming, unreliable man, rarely visits and always unannounced.

A radio nicknamed “Marconi” works intermittently, randomly bringing 1930s dance and traditional Irish folk music into the home, leading the women into sudden outbursts of wild dancing.

The events of that summer are narrated by the adult Michael, unfolding a tender study of these women’s lives. Don't miss this wonderful play in the intimacy of the Dixon Studio.

Click here to view the gallery for this event.


Brian Friel is a top quality playwright and his Dancing at Lughnasa being presented  by Southend Shakespeare Company in the Palace Theatre, Westcliff's Dixon Studio this week'  is one of his best plays offering some wonderful chances for the actresses playing the four sisters and their mother to shine in this look back to life in a remote village on the west coast of Donegal in 1936.

Some may think he sees the scene, which is loosely based on his own mother and sisters, through rose-coloured spectacles, but his view was that of a seven-year-old and the looking back is done by Andrew Sugden as the narrator Michael, who has one of the most difficult parts in the cast of eight being isolated from the action while looking back.

Overall this production directed with great subtlety by Ian Downie, assisted by Susan Jane Brown, is excellent and shows SSC at their best for it makes one realise how strong the pool of female acting talent in the Company is, for often the plays by the Bard just do not have a lot of very high quality parts for females.

One of the great things about Friel's play as it unfolds and the family's sheer existence is threatened by the irresistible progress of its time is the inevitable great change in the sisters' lives and that of their mother.

Fine performances come from the whole cast who each in their turn are given the chance to shine, with Carol Hayes, Sandra Smith, Louise Calton, Cathy Memery and a hardly recognisable Madeleine Ayres particularly outstanding, while John Newell is quite excellent as the frail elder brother, missionary Jack, who is back from Africa where he seems to have gone native.

I saw the play some years ago at the Palace when an Irish professional touring company impressed  in the main house but I thought the SSC production, which runs until Saturday (March 23} in the Dixon, reveals many subtleties which were not so obvious on the main stage.

It is a production to be savoured and enjoyed by a master playwright with the SSC at their very best.


Inspiring tale of five sisters struggling in rural Ireland

FEW plays in recent years have inspired more affection than Dancing at Lughnasa – Brian Friel’s sad, tender account of family life in rural Ireland, a few years before the Second World War.

Now Southend Shakespeare Company have taken one of their regular short-break vacations from the Bard to put it on at the Dixon Studio, at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff,

Director Ian Downie says: “Dancing at Lughnasa is a beautifully written and moving play. It provides some great roles and opportunities for our actors.

“There has also been an element of good timing, because one of the themes of the play covers the faultlines and tensions in the Catholic Church.”

The Southend Shakespeare Company cast is led by Madeleine Ayres, Carol Hayes, Sandra Smith, Louise Calton and Cathy Mernery as the five unmarried Mundy sisters of County Donegal.

Their lives hit a crisis when their brother Jack (John Newell), a Catholic missionary priest, returns from Africa suffering from malaria – and, it turns out, a bad dose of church politics.

The family are also threatened by the arrival of a new factory, which threatens the slim livelihood they make from knitwear.

Ian says: “For all the sadness, Dancing at Lugnhasa is lifted by the beauty of its language and its ability to show the inner life of its characters.”

Hannah Marsh

Tickets are available online from the Palace Theatre box office or by calling the theatre on 01702 351135. Discounts are available for SSC members.

Full price: £11.00      Concessions: £9.50      Groups of 10+ get 11th ticket free


Character Played By
Kate Sandra Smith
Maggie Carol Hayes
Rose Madeleine Ayres
Agnes Louise Calton
Chris Cathy Memery
Michael Andrew Sugden
Gerry David Hannington
Jack John Newell
Director Ian Downie
Assistant Director Jane Brown
Website Liaison Steve Pilley
Lighting & Sound Peter Finlay
Music/Arts - Drama


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