A standing ovation for Brian Friel’s Translations

My first encounter with Brian Friel’s work would not be what you might call conventional. I was preparing to go back to study History at university as a mature student in 2010. We had been studying ‘Translations’ as part of a FETAC English module at Drogheda Institute of Further Education. It being the 30th anniversary of the play’s first production; the Navan Theatre Group decided to perform the play. So naturally our English teacher suggested we might all go and see it. We were an excited bunch of mature students on that cold November night, when the show got started. The theatre was full to the brim and an eerie silence of anticipation fell across the theatre, as the cast began to perform the play. Suddenly, while the cast was in full swing the fire alarms went off. Strangely the actors continued on… Because they had shown no concern, we the audience sat quietly engrossed in the play. Then someone decided it might actually be a good idea that we adhere to the fire alarms which were ringing loudly at this stage.

The theatre was cleared, and the cast and audience piled out into the car park. We stood shivering in the cold November wind, waiting for the Fire Brigade to investigate the problem. When the ‘all clear’ was given we all piled back in, each racing to the bar for a quick hot toddy to warm us all back up. The show resumed as if nothing had occurred. In fact the actors took off from the last line they had just finished, before we’d all been encouraged to leave the theatre. Suffice to say there was a standing ovation for the team of actors when the show ended.

Bizarrely, the event stuck in my mind and when the play came up in my end of term exams it was one the easiest questions I had to answer. I ended up with eight Distinctions for my final results. I am now studying Single Honors History at Trinity College Dublin as a mature student, going into my Senior Sophistor 4th year. When, I look back at my journey as a mature student, reading ‘Translations’ stands out as a moment which created a massive change in my approach to History. Friel’s methodology, to this part of Ireland’s and England’s history reveals the social and human impact of an unsure and questionable change. It has made me appreciate that the events I study had a real and lasting impact on those who experienced it. I have endeavoured ever since to represent those who experienced these changes in History with the same respect and sensitivity Brain Friel achieved in writing ‘Translations’.

Audrey Smith

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