Dancing at Lughnasa

Written by Brian Friel

Thursday 13th July to Saturday 15th July and Tuesday 18th July to Saturday 22nd July 1995

Directed by David Penrose

It is 1936 and harvest time in Ballybeg, County Donegal. The Mundy sisters just about keep themselves and the farm together, bringing up young Michael without much help from his feckless charmer of a dad and nursing Uncle Jack - home at last from his missionary work in Africa. They keep the old festivals, pagan and Christian alike, and dance the old dances. Only the radio is new, and what a mixed blessing that is, bringing bad news, new dances - and a changing world to Ballybeg.

AuthorBrian Friel

Brian Friel (b 1929)

Friel was born in Omagh, County Tyrone. Educated in Derry, he worked as a teacher and councillor. His first radio plays were produced in 1958: 'A Sort of Freedom' and 'To This Hard House'. These were followed by 'A Doubtful Paradise', his first stage play. Friel began writing short stories for The New Yorker in 1959 and shortly afterwards, he took leave from his full-time job in 1960 to pursue a career as writer.

During the early 60s he wrote 59 articles for The Irish Press and found his first success as a playwright in 1964 with 'Philadelphia Here I Come!'. 'The Loves of Cass McGuire' and 'Lovers' followed in the next 3 years and during the remainder of the 1960s and the 1970's Friel produced further works including 'The Freedom of The City', 'Volunteers', 'Living Quarters' and 'Faith Healer'.

One of his more successful plays is 'Translations' which he wrote in 1980. However that decade is marked for him by a dearth of writing. It seems the conflict for his time as Director of the Field Day Theatre Company meant little time for writing. However, following his resignation from that post he was able to rise to prominence again with plays such as 'Dancing at Lughnasa' which was written in 1990 and which is probably his most widely performed and successful play.

An intensely private man, Friel rarely gives interviews or information about his private life. He was elected to the Aosdana in 2006 (being one of only seven living members allowed to hold that post at any one time) and in 2009, The Queen's University of Belfast built a new theatre complex and research centre named after him.

PlayDancing at Lughnasa

Set in the fictional town of Ballybeg, 'Dancing at Lughnasa' is loosely based on the lives of Friel's mother and aunts who lived in the Glenties, on the west coast of Donegal. The play takes place in early August 1936, around the festival of Lughnasa, in Celtic folklore. This is the festival of the first fruits, when the harvest is welcomed and play depicts the late summer days when love briefly seems possible for three of the Mundy sisters (Chris, Rose, and Kate) and the family welcomes home the frail elder brother, who has returned from a life as missionary in Africa. However, as the summer ends, the family foresees the sadness and economic privations under which they will suffer as all hopes fade. The play describes a bitter harvest for the Mundy sisters, a time of reaping what has been sown. There is a sense that the close home life the women have known since childhood is about to be torn apart.

The play was written in 1990 and has won numerous awards including Evening Standard, New York Drama Critics' Circle, Olivier and Tony Awards. 'Dancing at Lughnasa' was also adapted in to a film in 1998 starring Meryl Streep.

The Bench Production

Dancing at Lughnasa poster image

This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.


MichaelDamon Wakelin
KateRosemary Sawyer
MaggieIngrid Corrigan
AgnesSally Hartley
RoseAlyse Ashton
ChrisAli Bullivant
JackJohn O'Hanlon
GerryJoe Ferrugia


Director David Penrose
Stage Manager Lindy Nettleton
Assistant Stage Manager Zoë Corrigan
Lighting Design Steve Wilkins
Lighting Operation Gemma Harding
Sound engineer Steve Dunning
Sound operator Chris Stacey
Costumes Sonia Davis
Properties Kathy O'Hanlon
Set Design David Penrose
Set Construction Tim Taylor
Poster Pete Woodward
Publicity John O'Hanlon
Leonie Harrington
Front of House Lindy Nettleton


The NewsNeil Pugmire

The spirituality of dance frees and fires the spirit

There's obviously something about dancing that frees the spirit - whether you're a tribal African or Irish Catholic in a pagan dance. What strikes home in Bench Theatre's compelling production of Dancing at Lughnasa is the similarity of spiritual experience worldwide. From befuddled colonial-come-home Jack to starchy churchgoer Kate, the family portrayed in this haunting piece all find release in the exhilaration of dance.

The backdrop is the Irish festival of Lughnasa in the 1930s, but it bears a remarkable similarity to ceremonies Jack knows from his years in Uganda. Those playing all five sisters are perfectly cast and utterly convincing - in performance and dialect. The minutiae of domestic life in pre-war Ireland is also expertly reproduced in an impressive set that could have been lifted straight out of a Donegal homestead. And yes, for such a serious subject there are plenty of laughs - not least in the comedy of seeing how straight-laced Kate responds to talk of anything pagan.

The News, 14th July 1995

Production Photographs