Simon Jenner reports from Sussex:
Just when you think Brighton Little Theatre’s can’t improve, this production of Brian Friel’s 1980 masterpiece, Translations, arrives, directed by Tess Hill and superbly designed by Steven Adams who also acts limping under-teacher Manus with pent-up knottiness.
He’s permanent understudy for his father, benign hedge-school patriarch Hugh (pitch-perfect Mike Skinner) teaching writing, Greek, Latin and maths to adults in Donegal, but not English. Nettie Sheridan’s portrayal of a near-dumb Sarah encouraged, later crushed, deeply inflects this play.
Younger son Owen (confident Benjamin Taylor) arrives with two army officers whose mapping and renaming of the territory for tax and colonial administration means that as Hugh knows, the contours of language and identity themselves are lost.
Crisis is reached when Nik Balfe’s superb Lieutenant Yolland –a benign outsider awkwardly eloquent – falls for local Maire and she him, in a winning portrayal by Kitty Fox Davis. Their mutual linguistic incomprehension bridged by knowing touch is just the climax of many tragi-comic scenes when languages are deliberately or otherwise perverted to ameliorate or vex matters. The brutal ending and apotheosis – especially Owen’s and Hugh’s reversing roles – furnishes another of Friel’s surprises. Through his comedy the stark conclusion takes on its own benediction. A breath-taking production.