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The Friel thing

Brian Friel‘s Dancing A! [.ug/inas‘a is one ofthe most acclaimed plays of _ the last ten years. Philip Parr talks to

one ofthe play‘s stars. Kate

Fitzgerald. about life. the universe

and Catholics.

Lttghnasa is not a ( ierman airline but lrish (iaelic for August. Now that‘s cleared tip. Dancing .-li [.ug/inasa makes a good deal more sense as a title. What is slightly more difficult to fathom for those who have not seen the piece is how this gentle tale ? of five sisters living in a remote cornerofsouthern Ireland in 1036 managed to beat all the opposition : and scoop every major l.ondon theatrical award in

1990. Brian Friel is certainly a playwright (and

more honestly. an adapter) of note. but it would have taken a visionary to foresee the unrestrained adulation which his fifteenth original play


Now on tour with a new company. Dancing .‘II Lug/mam. will arrive at (ilasgow’s 'l‘heatre Royal towards the end of this month. Among the cast is i Kate Fitzgerald. perhaps best known for her ' portrayal of Doreen (‘orkhill in Brooksidv. but also a veteran of most of Willy Russell's plays l while at the Liverpool Playhouse. If anyone can shed some light on Dancing xi! Lag/mum's success

it should be Fitzgerald.

‘Actually. I‘ve never seen it.‘ she admits. ‘so I'm '. not absolutely sure what people do get out of it. l can only guess. but I think it’s a beautifully written


(‘hinese meal digest it and then it‘s gone.

'I don't want to be arty farty about this.‘ she continues. ‘but if I didn‘t regard my job as being necessary for society. I actually couldn’t do it. I‘d have to go off and be a nurse or something. I'm not being flippant when I say that. but I really think that the best ofdrama should be about affecting changes in people. It should make them think about their life. think about the status quo and perhaps challenge it a little. Sometimes it takes being moved to sadness to achieve that. But what Friel does so wonderfully is put laughter. joy and humour in there as well.

Whatever the resonances ofsadness and joy in the piece. it still seems strange that a play which is set in such a quintessentially rural Irish community should appeal so broadly across the theatre-going spectrum. Fitzgerald disagrees. ‘I like to quote Isaac Singer. the Nobel Prize-winning novelist.‘ she says. ‘When asked why he wrote in Yiddish which sold about ten copies before being translated into English. he used to say that it's only if you make something very specific that it becomes universal. And I find that‘s the case with really good writing. If you make it that specific then it will work all over the world because tribal behaviour is tribal behaviour the world over.’ Kate Fitzgerald believes that Friel’s great skill is

Kate Fitzgerald: ‘lt I didn‘t regard my job as necessarylorsociety. lcouldn‘t actually do it.‘

piece and most people I’ve spoken to have immediately wanted to see it again. One person

, in tackling these issues with authentic voices. and . not only capturing the lrishness and the

‘It leaves people with a lot of fat to chew over. It’s not one ofthose plays that’s like a Chinese meal—digest itand then it’s gone!

who did not was one of my aunts in Liverpool who found it very upsetting. It has that power to move people. She said she just couldn‘t take the sadness. That was what she took away with her. but it also i has to be said that she hasn‘t stopped talking about ' it since. It leaves people with a lot offat to chew over. It’s not one ofthose plays that‘s like a

: Catholicism of the environment which he has

I created but also giving it a female perspective.

' ‘I Ie‘s got five women in a kitchen living on top of Q each other and yet they're still very distinct characters. The whole play's got a rhythm and yet i all of these women have different rhythms. Apart froin anything else. it‘s about brave women at a time when life was not easy. 'l’hey're outside

society because they‘re five women on their own

without being seen to be possessed by males. and also the youngest has had a child out of wedlock.

, Now fora rural Catholic community in Ireland that must have been a hell of a thing.‘ (Philip Parr)

Dancing A! Lag/mam. Theatre Royal. (ilasgmi', Mun 23—321128 Marc/1.

unm- Quite contrary

‘Do you want to do a project? . . . Yes ...Whatabout? . . . Idon‘t know. We started with a blank page and came up with this show in the end.‘ Martin Duncan, actor, composer, director and writer, describes how he and Ian Spink, co-director of Second Stride Dance Company, began work on Four Marys. “Historically, Mary Seaton, Mary Beaton, Mary Livingstone and Mary

Flemming were known as the four Marys,‘ he explains, ‘and itjust happens thatanother Mary—Mary Stuart—makes five.’ This original ‘play' takes the Scottish queen and her four companions (the very same ‘pretty maids all in a row’ as in the nursery rhyme) as its characters, but as Duncan expains, ‘people who go along expecting a big narrative play don’t quite get that. They will be, rightly, confused. It's just entertainment based on this quirk of history.‘

With their eclectic backgrounds, it comes as no surprise that Duncan and Spink have created a fusion of art lorms —what they describe as a ‘Second Stride Play‘. ‘Someone said it was



Multiple Marys

more like a masque,‘ says Duncan, ‘a mixture at dance and song and text. I‘ve always been fascinated by that sort of thing. To mix these things is a constant surprise and delight, not a contusion and a challenge.‘


The composer lorthe Four Marys is Peter Salem, whose latest show is The Miser at the Royal National Theatre and whose music Duncan describes as ‘ambient sound like little fireflies buzzing around, followed by big bag-pipes and sharp, harsh violins and rhythmical percussive toe-dances with a wonderful, deconstructed Latin Mass as a very haunting finale.’

And should you be worried about making sense of it all, Duncan otters a simple solution. ‘Put one thing next to another,‘ he says, ‘and the mind will make a story of it.‘ (Tamsin Grainger)

The Four Marys, Tramway, Glasgow, Fri 13-Sat14 Mar.

The List 13 26 March Hf): 41