Dancing at Lughnasa (2011)

Brian Friel

Dancing at Lughnasa (2011)

Premiered in 1990, Dancing At Lughnasa has previously been produced in the West End and on Broadway, winning an Olivier and three Tony awards. Our production travelled the length and breadth of the UK, garnering rave reviews and playing to packed houses. A hugely talented cast, led by Daragh O’Malley, provided an evening of dark humour, raw energy and tear-jerking tenderness.

The Details

Show, venue, reviews, cast and production details

Premiered in 1990, Dancing At Lughnasa has previously been produced in the West End and on Broadway, winning an Olivier and three Tony awards. It has also been made into a critically acclaimed film starring Meryl Streep and Michael Gambon.

Our production travelled the length and breadth of the UK, garnering rave reviews and playing to packed houses. A hugely talented cast, led by Daragh O’Malley, provided an evening of dark humour, raw energy and tear-jerking tenderness.

Key Theatre Peterborough

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow,

His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen

Theatre Royal York

Town Hall, Loughborough

Opera House, Buxton

Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke

South Hill Park, Bracknell

“Alastair Whatley’s touring production for The Original Theatre Company, at Oldham Coliseum this week, strives hard to capture the atmosphere of place and time, which are what it’s mainly about. Their moment of glory, as they dance for joy together to the battery-driven radio, in celebration of a lost or fast-disappearing youth, is the high spot of the show and won its own burst of applause on opening night.”

★★★★

Robert Beale, Manchester, Evening News


“The Irish mist that wreathed the opening set provided an atmospheric backdrop to this production of Brian Friel’s evocation of rural Ireland in 1936.

It captured the undercurrents of tension as the family struggles for survival, eventually breaking up when Kate, the only bread-winner, loses her teaching job, two sisters leave for England when their hand-knitting is overtaken by machinery and Jack finally succumbs to a heart attack less than a year after his return from Africa.

With not a weak performance from any of the cast, this production is definitely one to watch.”

Claire Gough, Maidenhead Advertiser


“Despite its lengthy running time and gentle pace, Dancing at Lughnasa feels consistently fresh the touching portrait of lives on show..

The material is sensitively and delicately handled throughout by director Alastair Whatley, each sister wonderfully drawn so that even the simplest of scenes appears layered and with careful detail that deserves an attentive watch.

The intricacies of family life and impinging social changes are all brought to life brilliantly in Whatley’s achieved revival of Friel’s finest play.

With not a single weak performance from its eight-strong cast, expertly lit and with a beautiful set, Dancing at Lughnasa is a gem.”

Lyndsey Fineran, Sunderland Echo


“Whatley’s biggest success of this production was showing the sisters overjoyed with life. Although the family’s lives do not extend much further than their small home and surrounding town, there are moments where their lives are filled with pure elation.

Their wireless set named ‘Marconi’ provides music which enables the characters to forget and be transported to their youth which was free of trouble.

Whatley defines this through the elevating scene which shows the sisters becoming overjoyed by the prospect of going to The Harvest Dance. The audience hear traditional Irish folk music blasting from the wireless set as the sisters loose all inhibitions on stage; they dance on the kitchen tables, spin around the kitchen and use crockery to drum out the classic rhythms.

Whatley perfectly evokes a feeling out of his audience at moments like these. The joy from the sisters is infectious but the nearby presence of Michael reminds us of their harrowing future.”

Libby Small, Loughborough Students Union


“Brian Friel’s almost legendary play about five sisters in a Donegal village in the rural Ireland of 1936, Dancing at Lughnasa, is simply the best play seen at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff, for many a long year and is matched by The Original Theatre Company’s production directed by Alastair Whatley, which is so beautifully planned and designed that it provides a lesson to any budding young directors on how to handle a latgish cast of eight.

Friel’s works are always a challenge to both actors and audiences for they require enormous attention to detail by those involved but just as important for members of the audience they have to tune into the accents and concentrate and lose themselves in the sheer beauty of Friel’s words and concepts.

It says a lot for the quality of the performances that, within 10 minutes that pest of the chocolate wrapper rustler behind me on the Monday night had forgotten their goodies and was lost in the play.

Strong performances come from all those involved with Patricia Gannon’s Maggie, Malread Conneely’s Agnes and Paul Westwood’s marvellously timed and fleet-footed Gerry stealing his scenes, while Sharpe star Daragh O’Mallery makes his de-frocked priest Jack a man to remember.

The famous dance in which all the five sisters finally let their hair down and seem to rid themselves of their inhibitions looked wonderfully spontaneous as choreographed by Lucie Pankhurst, while Victoria Spearing’s beautifully detailed and imaginatively created setting helped create the atmosphere of poverty and beauty and was only hampered by the smallness of the Palace stage from achieving its complete visual success.

For me the two and three quarter hours of Dancing at Lughnasa just flew by and I could quite happily have enjoyed this production for at least another 40 minutes.

The only pity about the whole thing was that the production was only scheduled to occupy the Palace stage for the first three days of this week with a matinee on Wednesday, April 5, followed by a final evening performance.

It is to be hoped that if and when The Original Theatre Company are given the chance to return to the Palace they will be lined up for a full week’s run for if their Dancing at Lughnasa is typical of their work they will be very welcome back.” John Giles, Encore Theatre Magazine.

“The play, beautifully written, radiates warmth with an abundance of humour tempering the emotional turmoil. It also provides five great parts for those playing the sisters and in this production the quintet of actresses rise to the challenge and deliver superlative performances – it would be invidious to single out any one of them.

Director Alastair Whatley deserves his share of the credit for bringing out the best from the script and the cast. Special mention must be made of the charming composite set that allowed the action to flow freely from the interior to the garden.”

Barrie Jerram, The Argus


“A warm-hearted play, beautifully acted.” Tinx Newton, Surrey Life

“This slow-burning drama is poignant without being self-righteous and everyone is ideally cast.”

Radio Lion


“This Original Theatre Company touring production (until Saturday) is as quietly unassuming as the play itself, and like it, grows in stature over its length. Director Alastair Whatley (who also narrates, as the older Michael) concentrates on its heart, the relationships between the women, conjuring a wildly energetic dance scene — the play’s best-known sequence — with the help of beautifully-judged performances throughout.”

Paul Genty, Oldham Chronicle


“Both the big themes and domestic detail are handled beautifully in this piece, which deserves to play to a packed house each night.”

Kate Clarke, South Wales Evening Post

It’s a production rich in mood and atmosphere and an ironic reminder that Ireland, with its collapsing economy and emigrating population, stands again at a turning point in its history.


The poetry of the language is sublime and it’s played by actors with a love and appreciation for its beauty.” Gwyn Griffiths, Morning Star

“More relevant than ever, it’s a solid and impressive production… Paul Westwood delivers a star turn.”

Dave Craig, News of the World


“Michael is played by director and producer Alastair Whatley, who in each of his roles did a magnificent job of creating an atmosphere so rich and filled with such tension that the audience felt the weight on each of the characters shoulders as if it was their own.”

Laurna Robertson, The Evening Express


“It’s rare to have plays of such calibre in our region… poignant and thought provoking”

Stella Wiseman, Farnham Herald


“A Beautifully acted …heartfelt eulogy, …not a single weak performance, an engrossing production” Simon Cole, Whatsonstage

“The Original Theatre Company have come up with a compelling, not to be missed, version of Dancing at Lughnasa”

Jim Nicholson, The Public Reviews


“A fresh interpretation of the play achieved brilliantly by director Alastair Whatley”

David Stockton, RemoteGoat

“This is an excellent revival of Brian Friel’s play, performed with delicate sensitivity and nostalgic reality …perfectly executed to express and release the tensions which threaten to implode within this family unit.”

Julie Watterston, The Stage


“Brian Friel’s bitter sweet masterpiece …an absolute gem of a production, a sheer joy. Not to be missed.”

Robin Strapp, The British Theatre Guide


“Thanks to the sure direction and great work here, the devastating indictments of Friel’s drama are captured in their entirety” Joanne Mace, Basingstoke Gazette

“Comparisons are often made between Brian Friel’s play, Dancing at Lughnasa, and Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. But Friel’s play is closer in spirit to Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. Both plays are involved with the tangled destinies of sisters and the bigger spiritual issues of life and loss.

The splendid, faultless touring production by The Original Theatre Company, which opened at HM Theatre in Aberdeen last night, reminds us what a masterful piece of work this is. Expertly directed by Alastair Whatley, who also plays Michael, and brilliantly performed by a superb cast on Victoria Spearing’s authentic set, this is the finest production of this play I’ve seen.

Essentially, it’s a nostalgic memory play in which the adult Michael looks back on his life in 1930s rural Donegal with his unmarried mum, Chris, played by the wonderful Siobhan O’Kelly, her four sisters and their crushed, demented missionary brother, Father Jack, played by the great Daragh O’Malley.

It seems as if it can’t get any better and then Gerry, Michael’s footloose charmer of a father, played by Paul Westwood, turns up. His character has a sort of fragile swagger that is captivating and heart-warmingly real.

Dancing at Lughnasa only runs at HMT until Thursday and cannot be recommended enough.”

Roddy Phillips, Press and Journal

Rose: Bronagh Taggart

Jack: Daragh O’Malley

Agnes: Mairead Conneely

Maggie: Patricia Gannon

Gerry: Paul Westwood

Christina: Siobhan O’Kelly

Kate: Victoria Carling

Michael: Alastair Whatley

Directed by: Alastair Whatley

Designed by: Victoria Spearing

Lighting by: Alan Valentine

Sound by: Dominic Bilkey

Costume: Anna Harding

General Manger:: Sonja Drew

Company Stage Manager: Zac Holton

Deputy Stage Manager: Meg Jones

Assistant Stage Manager: Hubert Mainwaring Burton

Production shots: Jack Ladenburg

Tour Blog

Find out more about Dancing at Lughnasa (2011) on the road

Read Blog

Production Photos

See our theatre company in action!

Rehearsal Trailer

A candid look behind the scenes…