One of Brian Friel’s plays, Wonderful Tennessee (1993), speaks with poetic subtlety about how traditions and rituals begin. In quietly noticing the beginning of memorable things, the late playwright may have regarded the new work as a companion piece to Translations, his 1980 play about the melancholy ending of cherished things—endings like a society and a culture.
Friel has maintained Translations is strictly about language, and language certainly might have been uppermost in his mind when he wrote the drama. But whether he chose to admit it or not, he was also waxing elegiac about the passing of a way of life that certainly has meaning for a wider world but is surely relevant to one very specific population.
Translations takes place in a small agricultural Irish town called Baile Beag during the 1830s, the name familiar today as Ballybeg. And the modernization of the name is what was bothering Friel. He introduces a father Hugh (Ciaran Hinds), a bibulous scholar who speaks Latin and Greek, and sons Manus (Seamus O’Hara), a teacher and homebody, and Owen (Colin Morgan), a returning successful businessman.
They gather at a time when officers and men from the Corps of Royal Engineers arrive locally to document the land for tax purposes and change local names. The men intermingle with others—in particular with Maire (Judith Roddy), a local young woman whom Manus longs for but who falls for sensitive, interloping Lieutenant Yolland (Adetomiwa Edum).
Note that neither speaks the other’s language. The situation is a set-up for a love scene that Ian Rickson, taking authoritative charge throughout, directs with great charm.
On Rae Smith’s vast, not-at-all-green set, the action between and among figures for whom blarney is not a shared trait establishes Friel’s unspoken but unmissable belief that progress is too often gained at a substantial loss.
An Ideal Husband ★★★★
The challenge for directors of Oscar Wilde’s plays is collecting cast members able to declaim the playwright’s epigrammatic dialog as if it’s realistic speech. If achieved, the works are so well made that everything else falls into fabulous place.
Jonathan Church has done himself a favor by landing Edward Fox, Nathaniel Parker, Frances Barber and Susan Hampshire—all box office names—to headline his grand revival. Each is easily able to lavish the elegant Wilde one-liners with laugh-eliciting meaning as they stride around Simon Higlett’s elegantly compact sets in Higlett’s striking costumes.
Smartly, Church has also lined up handsome, blond Freddie Fox, son to Edward, who’s already been putting his inherited talent towards an imposing reputation. He confirms it here as one of the dandiest dandies ever to gad about Mayfair with devil-may care élan. As Viscount Goring, he makes living only in the privileged moment as the way to do it.
Goring is best friend to honorable Sir Robert Chiltern (Parker), whose one past indiscretion threatens to catch up with him by way of conniving Mrs. Cheverly (Barber), thereby unsettling his marriage to inflexibly honorable wife Lady Chiltern (Sally Bretton). So the plot knot goes before Wilde sets off a double-cross or two and then uncrosses them happily.
Two things that hit me this time with the Wilde classic: 1) that so many of his bon mots come from women mocking men or from men mocking women; and 2) Wilde, thought of as simply a phrase-making dandy himself (the green carnation, for instance), is at his core a moralist. For conclusive evidence, watch Viscount Goring’s behavior right to the fade-out.
The title of Nina Raine’s follow-up to her award-winning Tribes may suggest that it concerns campus rape charges, usually the focus of plays dealing with the thorny topic.
Not so. Raine has something just as volatile to demonstrate in her two-act, seven-actor drama involving two 30-ish-40-ish couples bursting into fiery confrontations on the volatile subject—with several characters being lawyers dealing with rape trials in and out of court.
At the outset, Edward (Stephen Campbell Moore), a prosecuting barrister, and wife Kitty (Claudie Blakley) seem relatively happy during the party they’re giving, the object of which is to introduce single lawyer Tim (Lee Ingleby) to single actor Zara (Clare Foster, known from The Crown) while lawyers Jake (Adam James) and Rachel (Sian Clifford) enjoy the hospitality and contribute to a generally light-hearted evening also celebrating the birth of Ed’s and Kitty’s son.
Before long, however, the mood darkens many shades. Adam, who’s been consistently slipping around, comes to Ed and Kitty for commiseration. Rachel has finally thrown him out. Tables turn drastically, though, when Jake and Rachel reconcile while Kitty, still smarting from an affair Ed had five years earlier, decides the only way to make him understand how wounded she feels is to have an affair of her own.
She chooses Tim, for whom Zara has fallen after not particularly taking a shine to him at that first meeting. This leads to Ed’s finally getting Kitty’s punishing point and, in the midst of trying to effect a reunion, forcing himself on her. Or does he? Presto chango, Raine has produced a case of lawyer, heal thyself.
Amidst virtually non-stop shouting as all join in the arguments pro and con about Ed’s having raped Kitty within the marriage, Raine doesn’t declare for either side. A smart move, that. Incidentally, throughout the piece there’s a secondary plot wherein Ed and Tim have vied in a court case concerning Gayle (Heather Craney), who loses her complainant’s suit and isn’t content with that.
Under Roger Michell’s suitably brittle direction (and under the many lighting fixtures that lower and raise to assist identifying locales that Hildegard Bechtler has designed), the verbal battles are eventually excessive. When have so many furious marrieds accosted each other in one opus? Maybe never.
The ending of Raine’s microscopic look at how rape currently receives unsatisfactory judicial consideration won’t be revealed. What can be said is that the blackout comes about 20 seconds later than it should.
Translations opened May 30, 2018 at the National Theatre (London) and runs through August 11. Tickets and information: nationaltheatre.org.uk
An Ideal Husband opened on May 3, 2018 at the Vaudeville Theatre (London) and runs through July 14. Tickets and information: nimaxtheatres.com
Consent opened May 29, 2018 at the Harold Pinter Theatre (London) and runs through August 11. Tickets and information: nationaltheatre.org.uk