DANCING AT LUGHNASA – ACT ONE STAGING Pl – chiaroscuro lighting state establishes atmosphere and non-realism from the start. A stylised tableau allows the audience to see the cast in its entirety. Michael, as an adult narrator, is a Brechtian device P2 – lighting is used for mood – probably straw and pink state to connote Summer. Props and set is organised to allow for cast to break from tableau into small-scale action representational of character eg ‘AGNES knits gloves’. P7 – the key convention of the play – that Michael the adult narrator is also the child – is established.
When the child speaks – referred to as BOY – the actors address an maginary child while adult Michael speaks his lines. No interaction occurs between adult Michael and the rest of the cast. The effect will be to constantly remind the audience of the play as MEMORY. P14 – imaginary bird – Maggie’s eyes follow the rapid and imaginary flight of something up into the sky. This use of theatricality allows for a) a deeper grasp of relationship between Maggie and BOY and b) the symbol/theme of frustrated hope and freedom that runs through whole play P17 – Jack’s entrance.
We have already been given an expectation of Jack from the narrator and from references by the sisters. First entrances are always very important as they establish relationship of character and audience. Jack is shrouded by clothing – his identity shrouded – non sense of his clerical role. ‘He seems uneasy, confused’ We feel immediate sympathy for him and understand the sisters’ concern. P18 -Unease about Jack – tension is created by characters’ reaction to Jack – ‘a sense of unease, almost embarrassment’ (Think about this is created on stage between characters).
This adds to our initial impression of Jack as not behaving as he ought to as a clergyman P21 – long directions re the wild dancing – this is a cathartic moment in the play. We are given details of the music first – its title, then its beat. Then we are given a detailed description of its effect on the sisters. Stage directions regarding eg Maggie are very detailed ‘ she is breathing deeply, rapidly. Now her features become animated by a look of defiance, of aggression; a crude mask of happiness’. Action and sound are interwoven.
By the end of these directions we have a much deeper grasp of the sisters – ‘ a pattern of action that is out of character and at the same time ominous of some deep and true emotion’. Perhaps we realise here that Kate is different to the others. P24 – Gerrys first visit – the news that Gerry’s arrival is – the news throws the sisters into chaos’. Despite the confusion of small actions, Chris remains ‘immobile’ – too shocked to move’. A theatrically effective moment. P26 – sisters repeat tableau – again in relation to the effect of Gerry on the sisters, they each adopt an ‘appropriate’ pose With total concentration’ before he enters.
He is aware of their scrutiny – ‘ he knows he is being watched’ but at this moment is sure of Chris. P31 – parallel staging outside/inside – while Gerry and [Chris are flirting, the sisters are simultaneously discussing their imagined conversation. This parallel technique is classic of two stage sets that allow for simultaneous action / restricted narrative progression P41 – Jack creates percussive noises and dances in a tribal way – using props (pieces of wood) to create a part of the symbolic meaning of the play is typical of the Chekhovian style of realism.
The sisters so not stop him – it is as if they know they are out of their depth in terms of feeling, experience and celebration ADULT MICHAEL PI-2 – A hugely important monologue in which we have a sense of the over-arching structure of the play as an exploration of a child’s memory. Adult Michael takes us mmediately to the key points of the play – the sisters, the Festival of Lughnasa, Father Jack, the radio, and his own father, Gerry. This forms the frame of the narrative – we begin and end with Michael.
Adult Michael is a restricted narrator in that he only has his own memory to organise thoughts and memory by – however, for the purposes of the audience, he is omniscient, because we are not given any other viewpoint audience of the play as MEMORY. This is a big challenge for the actor playing Michael to resist any interaction with the sisters when he is the boy, yet to successfully create the persona of a child P8-9 – a wonderful insight into Jacks past here – ???he looked-magnificent. To Michael, Jack is a hero, also to the sisters, to Ballybeg and the whole of Donegal.
While Jack was ‘our own leper priest’ the family enjoyed ‘a small share of fame’, but we are soon to meet Jack for the first time and see that he is no longer that fgure. He is now shunned by the local priest because of the changes in him and his family are also cast off by the community. P41-42 – Michael’s monologue brings Act One to a close – reminding us of the framed narrative. Here he confirms the ideas being discussed by the sisters. The details of the story are given to us by Michael quite starkly – Friel does not keep what happens of the play relates to what we know in a wider sense.
Having knowledge of forthcoming disaster / tragedy adds poignancy and foreshadowing to our understanding of the action in the present. DANCING P2 – Adult Michael tells us of the effect of the radio / music on the sisters – ‘l remember my first delight, indeed my awe, at the sheer magic of that radio’. The reason the time of the play has been chosen is because of impact on Michael as a child of the change in the sisters when they danced in Juxtaposition to the eterioration of Father Jack who had once been his hero.
P3 – the convention of music as part of the sisters’ daily life is established when Rose sings and automatically dances at the same time. Each sister has their own style of dancing – Rose has a ‘gauche, graceless shuffle that defies the rhythm of the song P6 – Maggie often injects humour into her dancing – ‘she does a very fast and very exaggerated tango’ P12-13 – the possibility of attending the Festival of Lughnasa dance is raised. Chris exclaims ‘l could dance non-stop all night-all week-all month! ‘ and wants to recapture her youthful passions.
Agnes asserts ‘l want to dance’, meaning she want to have more in life. Kate is tempted but then objects – ‘Dancing at our time of day? That’s for young people with no duties and no responsibilities and nothing in their heads but pleasure. ‘ P20 – Maggie remembers a dance competition she went to with her friend Bernie when she secretly loved Brian McGuinness who danced with Bernie. He left after the dance and she has clearly never forgotten him. Friel cleverly creates memories within memories through these monologues P21 -22 – the sisters’ wild dance is a crucial and symbolic moment in Act One.
Chris uts the radio on and gradually all five sisters participate. Maggie uses flour to ‘pattern her face with an instant mask’ and dances ‘a white-faced frantic dervish’. Rose dances her ‘own erratic rhythm’. Agnes ‘moves most gracefully, most sensuously. Chris puts on Jacks priest robe despite Kate’s protest, but then Kate finally Joins in. ‘Kate dances alone, totally concentrated, totally private; a movement that is simultaneously controlled and frantic’. When the music stops, their total loss of control leaves them looking ‘slightly ashamed and slightly defiant’.
P28 – Gerry has been giving dance lessons – he demonstrates some steps with xpertise and then talks about the growth of the music media in Ireland and the newly increased demand for gramophones P32 – ‘Dancing in the dark is on radio – Gerry and Chris dance – ‘He… dances her clearly a connection / attraction between them. Gerry asks her earnestly to marry him – we will soon learn that he is already married, and we will know the betrayal of his likeable and convincing persona like Chris. At the point, we want it to work out for he and Chris.
P34 – Gerry and Chris exit, still dancing – this has clearly been a kind of foreplay to lovemaking. Kate is resigned – ‘Theyre away. Dancing. ‘ But she goes on to say that e will leave afterwards – now he has what he wanted? P37 – Chris dances after Gerry leaves – she is excited and has clearly been won over by his attention. P39 – Jack talks of the sacrifice and dancing in Ryangan to please the spirits’. The sisters seem shocked even though they instinctively understand the link between ceremony and ritual with freedom and dancing.
LOVE / PASSION P5 – Each of the sisters has a lost love or the lost hope of love. Here we find out about Dannie Bradley and Rose. PIO – Kate has loved Austin Morgan but now Rose tells her he has been seeing someone else P20- Maggie tells of her unrequited love for Brian McGuinness. She has now replaced her hopes of ‘a wonderful wild man’ for a Wonderful Wild Woodbine’ (p23) P24 – Gerry Evans arrives. He is Michael’s Father, and Chris is still in love with him. He has a poor reputation with the other sisters as he has a record of leaving Chris for long periods of time.
P32 – Gerry asks about Agnes ‘ tell her I was asking for her’ suggesting he has a soft spot for her. Agnes clearly has feelings for Gerry herself, and cannot watch them dance. Her outburst baffles the others who do not realise the truth. P40 – Jack asks Chris about her husband – ‘so Michael is a love-child? Even though he Mundy sisters have endured censure for the birth of Michael ‘out of wedlock, Jack approves and comments that ‘In Ryanga women are eager to have love-children’.
RELIGION Pl 1 – there is a binary opposition between dancing/freedom and catholic repression. Kate is shocked to hear Sophia McLaughlin’s enthusiasm for the dance ‘ you’d think it was heaven she was talking about’ changed – ‘he can hardly look me in the eye’, underlining the rigidity and unbending nature of Catholicism P36 – Kate is worried about Rose who she sees as the most vulnerable sister – but is she as certain of her faith as she seems? ‘I must put my trust in God… He’ll look after won’t he? You do believe that Maggie don’t you?… l believe that… do believe that’… ” PAGANISM P9 – the kites that Michael is making that we do not see until the end of the play cause Kate to exclaim What are they? Devils? Ghosts?. They are pagan rather than religious symbols P16-17 – Rose describes the Lughnasa tradition of driving cattle through flames to banish the devil out of them’. On page 35 Kate confirms that in the same ritual people were ‘doing some devilish thing with a goat’. On pages 38-39 Jack describes the ceremonies and rituals back in Ryangan to please the spirits – or to appease hem’.
There are clear links established between the pagan / superstitious rituals of Ballybeg and Ryangan. The two communities are not so different. It is only a religious Judgement that makes them alien. P35 it could be argued that the strong presence of the radio and the non-religious music in the household – those aul pagan songs’ – symbolises the strength of human nature to be free of religious shackles and rules. INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION 1 – 1936 is established as the year that the play takes place in. the audience will use foreknowledge of history to understand cultural/social/political forces at work at that ime.
The reference to De Valera on page 4 will also remind the audience that he was the Irish leader who introduced the industrial revolution (factories and mechanisation) to Southern Ireland in the 1930’s – decades later than in mainland Britain. P28 – Gerry mentions the increase in gramophone sales – a sign of people with time for leisure as well as work P29 – Education had become a recognised factor in the development of a nation. Gerry proudly tells of Michael’s progress – they all love school nowadays’ and then advises Chris to ‘sell sewing-machines’ as a way of increasing profits.