Beneath the mundane surface of Brian Friel’s well-crafted play about the five single Mundy sisters lies a tragedy waiting to happen. With assured direction by the Everyman’s Julie Kelleher, the cast brings out the deep poignancy at play here.
It’s made all the more acute by the narrator, Michael, the grown up illegitimate son of Christina Mundy. Played with pitch perfect voice projection by Jack Healy, Michael is looking back on the summer of 1936 when the world of his mother and his aunts fell apart. He was a young boy then, an unseen character in the play.
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom that summer in the fictional town of Ballybeg, Co Donegal. Set during the Celtic harvest festival, known as Lughnasa, the sisters, egged on by the humorous Maggie, break into a mad dervish-like dance. Only Kate, the sensible eldest sister, a teacher, dances primly. She abhors the pagan practices at Lughnasa. Little wonder then that she is horrified at her brother, Fr Jack, who returns from the missions and reveals his loss of faith, having ‘gone native’. He is unwell and comes across as quite mad.
The only other male in the play is Gerry Evans, the fly-by-night father of Michael, who turns up when it suits him, making false promises and exciting Christina as well as Agnes, who also fancies Gerry. He is a caricature of a cad but oddly asexual.
The tragedy that unfolds in Michael’s narration is down to economics. The household is dependent on Kate’s income. Agnes and the vulnerable Rose (who has what would now be called special needs) earn pin money knitting socks.
When Kate loses her job and a newly opened factory puts Agnes and Rose out of work, the household falls apart with dire consequences for the two former knitters who emigrate to London.
The set design by Deirdre Dwyer is bright and bold with surreal touches such as a bicycle, a kite and a pair of boots dangling mid air. It suggests taking flight, away from Ballybeg, to the mean streets of London where a terrible fate awaits two naive country girls.